Every once in a while, a debut LP proverbially knocks the little cotton socks clean off your feet. It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s not always a pleasant experience, but in the case of Petite Noir’s 11-track masterpiece; pleasantries would be far from enough. La Ville est Belle / Life is Beautiful is fucking gold in every way, shape, and form.
Listening to the LP for the first time, it’s clear to see that the half-Congolese, half-Angolan, South African-based newcomer (born; Yannick Ilunga) has no problems with confidence – at least not musically. The boldness of what he himself calls ‘Noirwave’ represents a “new African aesthetic” – more of a movement than a sound, which expresses freedom at its very core. Something that self-reportedley influenced Ilunga from an early age.
Captured perfectly by the aptly-titled “Freedom”, the broody synths are juxtaposed expertly with a rapturous African beat that would get even stiffest foot tapping. And these African beats – inspired by the likes of Fela Kuti and Tabu Ley (aka. not white, middle-class ‘African' beats) – act as the pulse of the audacious and eclectic offering. The best of which can be found in the infectious “MDR”, whose familiar "Cos you’re the one that I want/You’re the one that I need" chorus playfully frames the track – and puts a certain Danny and Sandy’s version to shame. Yes – it’s that good.
As with all outstanding debuts, Petite Noir’s sound is wholly unique and this where its strength comes from, in part at least. With that said, the wide array of influences – from post-punk to nu wave, and disco to indie – can be heard. One only needs to listen to “Seventeen (Stay)” – which could easily slip unnoticed into a Klaxons album (circa. 2007 – aka. when they weren’t shit) – to fully appreciate this, or the constantly evolving ode-to-the-80s “Just Breathe”, which frames Illunga’s distinctive, broody baritone to no end.
And with an album title based on a 1987 up-lifting Congolese film, another thing which sets this album apart from others – at least in my eyes – is the unadulterated euphoria it exudes from every pore. The undeniably African “Down” is homage to this as horns, shakers, and laughter, create a sense so infectious; you’ll be grinning ear-to-ear.
More experimental and broody tracks like “Inside” and “Chess” – the latter of which is the pinnacle of the 11-track offering in my eyes – showcasing Petite Noir’s versatility both in songwriting and production. And in doing so, he links the proverbial circle in what I believe to be an outstanding (dare I say ‘perfect’) debut.