Oil 10 – Arena

Brume Records (BRUME 08), 2003

Tracking the evolution of a musical project is, for me, one of the joys of being a fan.  Hearing a project search for and find its sonic identity is especially fulfilling when the entire discography is considered; or even better, experienced as it unfolds before one’s ears.  The history of Gilles Rossire’s Oil 10 project is a prime example of how the work of a composer hints at the direction it may take before finally reaching its potential.  Looking backward, early Oil 10 albums (In/Out, Blocks) are rough and unformed, while bearing occasional seeds of what was to come (the album Links).  With the 2003 album Arena, however, Rossire and Oil 10 flowered into magnificence, using everything from previous works and pushing the project into completely new – and wonderful – territory.

Oil 10’s music began as experimental beats with the mischievously skewed sensibilities that seem to mark much of the independent French electronic music that was appearing at the time.  Early efforts were certainly solid, but unremarkable.  However, subsequent albums began to show elements of character, such as processed vocal samples and snippets of melody.  The tracks became shorter, less abstract, more focused….more song-like.  On Arena, Rossire moved these elements into the forefront, increased the melodic content, and refined the music even further.  He seemed to finally find his niche, and as a result, Arena is a marvelous ten-track collection of instrumental electro-pop genius, while showcasing the endearing quirkiness that the French seem to do so well.

Arena opens with “Is It Sex?”, a strange yet compelling tune that contains everything that gives Oil 10 its identity:  tight 4/4 beats, light clicks, chirps, and glitches, a collage of beeps that serve both as mood and melody, thoughtful catchy analog-style synth lines and sequencing, and bizarre Speak-and-Spell-ish vocal samples (on this track, they’re repeated plaintive musings – “Is it sex?  Or is…it…love?” – that add layers of tongue-in-cheekiness because they sound the voice of a robot).   It’s a song (yes, that’s what Oil 10 produces at its evolutionary peak:  songs) that typifies the Oil 10 formula, serving as a fine example of what Arena holds in store.

You’ll hear spacey wistful anthems (“Lost in Metropolis”), infectious layers of irresistible robotic joy (“Happy Mondays”), and driving drone-backed neon-drenched journeys (“Le Bar”).  Rossire imparts an extra edge of surreality to “Electric Angels,” a beatless drifting lullaby peppered with truly bizarre vocal samples that appear to be taken from a language tutorial.  A down-pitched voice declares “I am Huge Harry, a very large person with a deep voice.  I can be used as an authority figure,” while a mid-ranged voice says, “I am Beautiful Betty, the standard female voice.  Some people think I sound a bit like a man.”  And then a high-pitched voice:  “My name is Kit the Kid, and I am about ten years old.  Do I sound like a boy or a girl?”  It’s examples like this that make me think Oil 10’s vocal components are really sourced from Rossire himself; they’re just too strange, too perfectly suited for the songs, and too similar in sound to be sampled from anything else.

Pop music isn’t my favorite genre, but it does have its attractions:  repeated melodies, tight structure, and straightforward nature.  Sometimes, especially after experiencing a stretch of purposefully formless experimental music, my brain craves something more uniform.  Oil 10 is in no way mainstream – it’s far too eclectic – but contains enough pop sensibility without becoming disposable.  Arena is much more accessible than most independent French electro, and contains a heaping dose of appeal on multiple levels, but it’s still inventive enough and odd enough to keep me coming back, time and again.  With Arena, Oil 10 and Rossire have reached their apex, and the result is enthusiastic, creative, slick, and downright enjoyable electronic pop…albeit with a distinctive and curious French slant.

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