There’s a certain continental weariness to the songs presented on Sad Madona’s Dramatic Dance; the collection of material spanning the last few years of the French darkwave project’s output paints a picture of disengaged melancholy. In contrast to the controlled pulse of his electronic compositions, Rémi Lauvergne croons in detached, over-it-all fashion, projecting that very specifically Parisian sensibility of seeming not to care, while actually caring a lot. While much of the appeal of minimal and coldwave music comes from how it evokes isolation and indifference, there’s something to be said for doleful stoicism as a way to connect with your audience.
That pensive feeling is key to keeping Sad Madona’s more languid tracks engaging. Had Lauvergne gone full confessional on the smokey opener “Spirit of Ecstasy” it might have come out saccharine. Instead his underplayed, mopey delivery puts the doleful cherry atop the simple arrangement of programmed drums and synths, arriving at a payoff when he briefly shifts up an octave for the outro for a little tease of hope. It’s an equally good fit for “Crimes”, where the bassline trades off rhythmic duty with a funky cymbal and snare pattern, forgoing big dancefloor energy for a solemn and contemplative mood. Even on the grave-wave circa 2010 cut “Witch Coast (demo)”, a bit of bouncy electro with a screechy lead that echoes forcefully across the track, Lauvergne keeps his presence on the introspective spectrum contrasting the relative bombast with solemnity.
While resignation doesn’t tend to be the most inspiring emotion an artist can convey through their work, layering it over the tracks through his vocal delivery and low-key melodies gives Lauvergne room to occasionally bust out big feelings to equally big effect. The most notable of these instances is on “Cemetery”, in which he shifts into a confessional falsetto delivery, his voice quavering in a fashion that suggests vulnerability and a bruised affections. It’s a pleasingly real moment that fleshes out the character presented through Sad Madona’s songs; somehow by playing up his general disenchantment (with romance? with the world?), he gives Sad Madona a tangible emotional core that shines ever so much more brightly when it’s allowed a few moments to peak between the clouds.