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“See you in the next Vietnam, again…” sings Nicolas Ker in The Secret Life of Animals, one of the twelve tracks on Aladdin’s first album, a new band formed by the singer from Hoax and Paris with Gilbert Cohen, aka DJ Gilb’r, head of Versatile Records (Zombie Zombie, i:Cube, Joakim, Etienne Jaumet) and member of Château Flight (with i:cube). Hmmm… When someone arranges to meet you in a new Vietnam, it’s never with the intention of treating you to a sunny holiday – and in fact, the feverish We were strong, so we got lost smells of reignited conflict. Various stages play out in a new war of independence over the thirty-eight minutes of this little Viet Vet opera slyly loaded with napalm… I love you, I’ll kill you.

It’s a lightning war with an intentionally short record (a conscious reaction to the majority of overlong contemporary albums) so that none of its all-consuming intensity is lost nor does it go astray in the back alleys of its own animality – Aladdin steadily creeps along.  The songs have this reptilian quality, and the landscape of the battle that gradually settles in the background, the theatre of its operations if you will, is a jungle that Ker’s voice cuts through and across – unless it is the other way round and it’s the scratching guitars, Detroit synths, Dadaist piano, sinuous violin and the intense rhythm all clearing a path through the bush that sustains Ker’s high-pitched, exposed and sexy voice. Sea of faces… Human landscapes – hummm, it looks like a wilderness from this vantage point.

We were strong, so we got lost… Aladdin does not cheat and this title in which the loser wins holds true in its avowal of pride and as a declaration of impotence. The entire album was written in Paris over a summer, in the wake of a double disappointment in love. The record is a minefield of betrayal, pride, arrogance, proven bad faith, open wounds, choked back sobs and narcissism.  Two guys sought refuge in the studio. Perseverance and rage were the prerequisite qualities for this particular sojourn in hell. Driven by anger and incomprehension – well, long live civil wars then, if tracks emerge so speedily and lyrics yield so much more on reading between the lines with images shaped from such raw and cryptic language, sometimes attaining the humour of automatic writing – and who else but Ker would dream of addressing (in the way of talking to oneself) an admonitory letter to K-maro, some forgotten Lebanese-Canadian rapper, directly followed with an ambiguous confession: “I wish I was a little girl again…”

Yet that is precisely where We were strong so we got lost positions itself, elusive in the art of orchestrating temporal and genre collisions: Nicolas Ker’s singing style has continued to evolve channelling Jeffrey Lee Pierce/Ian Curtis more than usual. Gilbert’s production has absolutely nothing of the formulaic catchall “rock dressed up as electro album”, that tries to reference everyone from a to z. The two directions (rock and electronic music) are organically linked by the pairs’ shared desire to flee and risk going beyond set formulas, leaving behind their respective sanctuaries allowing themselves to go where the path and the adventure become one. Nothing is prescribed on this record; everything always comes down to accident and confrontation. There are surely not many albums as indispensable to the physical survival of musicians.

One day somebody will explain why “side projects” often make for the most introspective, most intimate, craziest and freest of records. Aladdin’s original project, the one before all the heartbroken blues, for these two musicians with so much in common, except ironically their musical backgrounds (Ker comes from haunted rock and new wave, Gilbert from House, Black Music and Techno), was to see if this unlikely union, rather than ending in mutual incomprehension, could give birth to a kind of “electro Prince” tinted with Syd Barrett style hallucinations… Except pain took things to quite another pass: music on the verge of the abyss, nervous, reptilian, choleric, expressing itself in a dull roar, yet all imposing when ever so fleetingly calm. A fascinating struggle between different approaches to music… whole afternoons spent advancing in unknown territories; Aladdin (spelled the same as in Walt Disney, a nice humorous touch) ends this first battle on instrumental notes picked off at intervals fading into the horizon… there is no epilogue. Probably because in love there can be no winners, only survivors: “and back again, and back again”…

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