Since her 2014 debut album, Héloïse Letissier, better known as Christine and the Queens, or just Chris, has marked herself as one of the most interesting performers in the nebulously-defined field of alt-pop, a genre already overflowing with innovation and talent. La vita nuova (★★★★★) is no exception. Her latest EP packs a lot of ideas and even more deeply felt feelings into a roughly 20-minute runtime.
Letissier examines not just the end and aftermath of a relationship, but also her own complicity in it. Notwithstanding a highly addictive stage-setting opener, “People I’ve been Sad,” she bookends the album with French and English language versions of the same song that differ in subtle but key ways. In “Je disparais dans tes bras,” she is resigned and accepting of the end of the relationship, but by the end of the album, “I disappear in your arms” finds her far more defiant, asserting her own anger and frustration rather than simply accepting the reality of the situation. From the shimmering small-hours ballad “Mountains (we met)” and the prowling, pleading “Nada,” everything about the EP is meticulously controlled, from her vocals to the production.
The 13-minute video (watch it below) that accompanies the EP provides a stark visual contrast to the tight, measured songwriting on display on the songs. Beginning with Chris dancing alone on the roof of the opulent Opéra Garnier, the rest of the songs take us on a high-concept romp through the building’s otherworldly Second Empire interior, culminating in an explicitly vampiric dance party. The video is visually stunning and reflects the inner turmoil of the songs outward into a baroque spectacle even though it raises more questions than it answers.
Although the EP’s lyrics are multilingual, oscillating between English, her native French, and briefly, Spanish and Italian, multilingualism is by no means necessary to appreciate the boldness and intensity of the project. Countless albums deal with the fallout of a collapsed relationship, but few take on the subject with both intellectualism and rawness cranked to maximum. Christine and the Queens’ previous work successfully paired these elements as well, drawing on various referents but then subtly twisting, inverting and complicating them. La vita nuova, however, represents this approach at its most successful yet.
La vita nuova is available on most streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music, and for sale on Amazon.com.
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