I’ve always felt like Jean-Michel Jarre has been underestimated by the progressive music community. His career is filled with exciting and inventive ideas on par with the likes of Tangerine Dream or Vangelis, but for some reason the community has never fully embraced him. His new album Oxymore released on October 21st, and further proves my point.
Jean-Michel is one of the legendary godfathers of electronic music and needs no real introduction from the likes of me. I reviewed his 2021 album Amazônia last year, and I still consider it a masterpiece of texture and touch. This is an artist whose discography is essentially untouchable, whether you like it or not.
Oxymore is both similar and dissimilar to Amazônia. The latter was a sweaty, lush experience with hordes of atmospheric sounds and voices to create the titular environment. It felt like you were there, or at least somewhere, travelling along with the angular and pulsating electronic music. Oxymore is also angular and pulsating, but it is darker, more urban, and deeply industrial in some ways. There are moments that feel like pure cyberpunk, and others that feel like trance or dance. This album is a bit all over the place, sliding seemingly contradictory ideas right up against each other with colorful, hard-hitting fireworks.
So, the difference between the two is especially found in tempo and texture. Instead of humid ambience, this album is quick, fiery, and confident. It certainly has its ambient moments, but a wicked, winding rhythm is always just around the corner. Oxymore as a whole feels futuristic, seductive, and shadowy, and maybe even confusing at times. There are certain tracks that revel in odd beats and strange tones before something more familiar and nostalgic rises. It can be disconcerting, in a good way.
This album takes time, believe me. I’ve seen various hardcore fans in the Jarre Facebook group struggle with this record. It is definitely a progressive and totally insane composition. But it is brilliant, too. Tracks like “Oxymore”, “Sonic Land”, and “Brutalism” are spiny, atmospheric affairs that give way to fantastic beats and brilliant rhythmic rituals. Other tracks, like “Neon Lips” and “Synthy Sisters” are more playful, but somehow dead serious, too.
My favorite tracks are “Animal Genesis”, “Sex in the Machine”, and “Zeitgeist”. “Animal Genesis” at first reminds me of Amazônia with its primal, abstract groove. Just when the heat seems to be getting too much, Jarre brings in a cyberpunk rhythm that slices right through the meat, so to speak. “Sex in the Machine” is even better with its tantalizing beat that I honestly never want to end. It’s just a damn cool track. “Zeitgeist” is more layered than the others. It features various vocal samples winding in and around multiple smaller rhythms. It climbs and crashes, weaves and stops. It’s a riveting piece.
For me, Amazônia is still the superior of the two albums, but Oxymore is really growing on me. It feels like the less sophisticated sibling, but the one who’s flashier and more fun. There are moments on this record that are like pure connection, if you know what I mean. This is just more evidence that Jean-Michel Jarre is a legend.
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