“I’m not a regular” sang Petite Noir on his first single ‘Til We Ghosts’ back in 2012 and on his debut EP he certainly proves it. Mixing African guitars, synths, frantic drums and his own soulful voice, Petite Noir, or Yannick Ilunga, sees himself at the forefront of a new genre: noirwave, in his own words, “[80s] new wave with an African aesthetic”.
The EP’s first track ‘Come Inside’, an invitation into Ilunga’s world, immediately establishes the South African multi-instrumentalist’s ability to blend these musical genres, layering synths over a rhythmic African guitar melody and a choral call and response. Its refrain is almost hypnotic and, as the beats and choir are slowly drowned out by electronic noise, it is clear that the album will be far from “regular”. Certainly the influence of both cultures can be felt on this track yet Ilunga seems not only to be merging musical styles but attempting to create something wholly new.
‘Chess’, the second track, released late last year, with lyrics taken directly from an IM conversation Ilunga had on the day of recording, sees him play both partners in a troubled relationship. Beginning in a beautiful Antony Hegarty-style falsetto and seamlessly switching into a smooth baritone, the track challenges the listener’s expectations, transitioning with Ilunga’s voice from contemplative game-music beats into an upbeat, LCD Soundsystem-style dance melody.
This is an artist who doesn’t want to be defined even by the genre he created as, after the first track, even the ‘African aesthetic’, which characterised earlier singles such as 2013’s ‘Noirse’, seems difficult to trace. Each track instead has its own distinctive sound, as seen in the surprising blend of RnB and indie-pop in Shadows to the irresistibly ambient 80s ballad ‘The Fall’, brought together by Ilunga’s talented vocal work.
The EP also sees the release of a more polished version of 2012’s ‘Til We Ghosts’, which got critics’ attention three years ago and is still as entrancing and cool as it was then. The opening line ‘Oh my God/ it’s been a while’ now takes on a self-reflective and somewhat ironic tone. Ilunga recently posted the track on his SoundCloud as a collaboration with Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def and, while this is not the version that appears on the EP, it is well worth a listen.
While The King of Anxiety is ambitious in its interweaving of musical influences, it manages not to get lost in the process and showcases Petite Noir’s incredible skill and versatility where each track seems both experimental and well-crafted. This record is certainly an exciting listen and is a promising debut that hints of a bright future for Petite Noir and noirwave.By Oisin Twomey Brenner