On their debut album, Topical Dancer, Belgian avant-pop duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul channel a cool, detached sensibility to craft an activist album that’s so catchy you don’t even realize at first that it is one.
While Topical Dancer is their first full-length album together, Adigéry and Pupul met a decade ago and formed a friendship that would later develop into a working relationship after electronic duo Soulwax paired them up to contribute music to the 2016 film Belgica. From there, they went on the release the excellent Zandoli EP together in 2019. Released on Soulwax’s DEEWEE label, Topical Dancer continues their collaboration and openly draws on the sweaty mid-2000s-flavored blend of pop and electronic music popularized by acts like Soulwax themselves, who also contributed production to the album.
At its core, Topical Dancer is unabashedly confrontational. Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul take the daily indignities that frequently go ignored or even embraced and elevate them to farcical levels imbued with impactful messaging. Unapologetic and wry, the album plays out as an audio tapestry woven from the absurdities and insecurities of contemporary life. The result is an album that’s as punchy as it is gorgeous, propulsive as it is inventive, mischievous as it is empathetic; two sides of pop pleasure that are united by Adigéry and Pupul’s bright wit, assertive beats, and skewering takedowns of racists and xenophobes.
Take, for example, “Blenda,” a bouncing number in which Adigéry recasts a racist insult into an earworm chorus: “Go back to your country where you belong / Siri, can you tell me where I belong?” Or “It Hit Me,” which vicariously recalls Adigéry’s own coming-of-age experience of being catcalled at a young age.
If the music on Topical Dancer is anything, it’s propulsive. Not content to stir or shake your butt, the album kicks you with staccato funk, rides you with synth waves, and snaps you with sinister drum machines that, at times, hit hard as fuck. The leftfield house– and techno-informed beats fuse with punchy pop numbers like “It Hit Me” and the Talking Heads-inspired “Making Sense Stop” to create a high-energy assault. The music mashes up genres in a refreshing, forward-thinking way. Tracks like “Esperanto” and the aforementioned “Blenda” feel like angry anthems that you can also dance to.
In the end, Topical Dancer is a roguish album that revels in its own quirkiness while also taking nothing too seriously. It’s political without being pedantic, humanist without virtue-signaling, and unapologetically threatening to the status quo without descending into sloganeering. And it will undoubtedly find its way onto many a party playlist (and best of the year lists) as the summer wears on.