After a brief, two year disbandment French coldwavers Minuit Machine have returned with their third LP, a record that feels very in-line with the template they established in their small, consistent discography. Hélène De Thoury and Amandine Stioui have a specific unity, with De Thoury’s potent electronic compositions that lean heavily into gothic melodrama matching Stioui’s wounded, world-weary vocals to a tee. While not necessarily enough to sustain Infrarouge for its entire runtime, the synergy that makes up Minuit Machine does provide some of the gloomy thrills that have defined their work up ’til this point.
Infrarouge covers off what the duo does best in the early going. Opener “Chaos” deals in the duo’s rich, continental mix of dark pads and coldwavesque percussion, with a sneaky amount of energy in the bubbly synth bassline to keep it moving. Stioui intoning the words “The more I try/The less I exist” with an arch theatricality is peak Minuit Machine; walking the fine line between melodrama and candor with a natural finesse. “DRGS” operates in a similar vein, as an even more gothic arrangement of synthesized instruments builds up the chorus’ apocalyptic sentiment and leftfield club contender “Hunter/Prey” works itself into a frothy climax from its halftime opening lament.
While the duo clearly know how to vary their songs without losing the thread of what makes their work together so distinctive, the latter half of the album does suffer from diminishing returns. After about the midway point – inhabited by the just-the-right-shade-of-melancholy ballad “Ballet” – the songs just don’t feel as developed. “98º” starts promisingly with a wavy melody but never quite takes off under its own power, coming off as a lesser version of preceding tracks. “Departure” goes for an admirable switch up of tone, going for some brighter tones and a bittersweet vocal with a touch of whimsy, lacking only a more distinguishable hook to call its own. Closer “Forgive Me For My Sins” is a fitting enough ending to the record, but seems trapped between bleak excess and dejected minimalism, committing to neither.
Despite being frontloaded, Infrarouge is a welcome return for Minuit Machine. As evidenced by her excellent LP as Hante. earlier this year Hélène De Thoury is an exceptional talent as a writer and producer, and Amandine Stioui obviously fulfills a specific role as muse and collaborator for her. When the material is at its best, there’s not much else like their mopey splendour.