Photo: Joe Cruz
Let's say you are vaccinated, mask-less, and feeling extra grateful as the sun beams down on you and all your friends at the beach. Just as you pop open a cold one, your friend hands you the aux cord (or rather, reveals the Bluetooth name). What do you play?
Polo & Pan (Paul Armand-Delille and Alexandre Grynszpan) have just unveiled Cyclorama, their sophomore album made precisely for such situations, both imagined and in reality. In theatre, "cyclorama" is defined as the "background device employed to cover the back/sides of the stage and used with special lighting to create the illusion of sky, open space, or great distance," a very fitting title for an album inspired by the duo's love for French cinema.
While Polo & Pan's debut album, Caravelle, took listeners on an expedition aboard their caravel (a small, highly-maneuverable sailing ship) from the Brazilian tropical forest to the banks of the African Congo River, Cyclorama transcends the idea of space altogether, constructing an infinite gateway through time and reality.
The Parisian duo's blend of house, pop, disco, and psychedelia never allows itself to fall under one genre label but rather can be described as a journey through time, a sonic portal to other countries, cultures, eras, and fictional lands. With Cyclorama, Polo & Pan have somehow managed to surpass the precedent they set with their highly-acclaimed Caravelle, describing the transition in their own words, "It's a musical odyssey through the steps of human existence from birth to adulthood to death… and transcendence! After our first journey in space with 'Caravelle,' we can't wait to take you on a hedonistic excursion through time with 'Cyclorama.'"
The album opens with "Côme," a proper Disney-esque intro into the various soundscapes to come. If Cyclorama was Alice In Wonderland, then "Côme" would certainly be the soundtrack to Alice's descent down the rabbit hole. We're immediately catapulted into Polo & Pan's magical world with "Ani Kuni," which Alexandre Grynszpan (Pan) wrote for his son "as a tribute to [their] favorite childhood lullaby, a timeless Native-American song that has touched generation after generation all around the world." Complete with a vibrant visual that doubles up as an enchanting lyric video, "Ani Kuni" is certainly an early standout on Cyclorama.
Next up is "Magic," an uplifting tune which fans originally heard in Polo & Pan's Home Sweet Home, an hour-long mixtape released May 2020 that certainly saved many from the bleak depths of quarantine. "Attrape-rêve," "Feel Good," and "Peter Pan" were all released as part of the duo's Feel Good EP in July 2020, embodying the whimsical, free-spirited French escape that we so desperately needed. Victoria Lafaurie, who also performs live with the band, lends her ethereal vocals to "Attrape-Rêve," which appropriately translates to dream catcher.
The pair shared more on their creative inspiration for Feel Good, "The more we have traveled, both geographically and from a sonic point of view, the larger the canvas. Imagination is memory and by listening to thousands of songs, syntheses are formed in our creative process. We exchange our ideas and choose the best without ever listening to our ego. We let our fantasies speak. 'Feel Good' takes us sailing on the Nile or exploring across the Amazon."
The album transitions from a daytime beach party to a European nightclub circa four a.m. with "Tunnel," featuring the seductive vocals of none other than Compton-bred rapper, singer, and producer Channel Tres. Armand-Delille and Grynszpan shared on the collaboration, "[Channel Tres] guided us wisely on our first incursion into urban musical territory and ensured we delivered a razor sharp sensual club track together."
"Requiem" feels like an intermission of sorts, a medley of cinematically- arranged synths leading listeners into the next stage of Polo & Pan's fantastical voyage. Following the sing-along summer anthem "Feel Good," we re-enter otherworldly French-kissed territory with "Melody," "Oasis," and "Artemis." "Jiminy" and "Bilboquet (Sirba)" are bouncy, playful, and multi-textured, giving rise to the most romantic track on the Cyclorama, "Les jolies choses." The song conjures a vignette of Paris in black-and-white with a palpable lust for life and love in the air. The pair expanded, "It's an unabashedly romantic description of the beautiful moments of a relationship set in the sandy dunes of 'Cap-Ferret'. A nostalgic postcard of the French way of life and love."
"Peter Pan," the album's closing track, encapsulates Polo & Pan's resistance to "growing up" and accordingly, plays out like a lullaby into the endless imagination.
You can expect Polo & Pan's Cyclorama to take on an even more elevated, bass-heavy sound on their upcoming tour, hitting major cities in Europe and North America through mid-2022. Take it from someone who was lucky enough to see the duo live twice: this is a show you do not want to miss.
Listen to Cyclorama below: