“We chose the way we’ll be remembered” – those are the opening lyrics of Her’s self titled debut album, unfortunately the French electronic duo’s only one. It is a very deep thought, the one that Simon Carpentier and Victor Solf leave us with – it must have felt even deeper for them to write down these words, considering the cancer diagnosis Simon had been living with years before the release of the record. We Choose, the album’s opener and the first song the two best friends wrote as Her, embodies a message of hope – it is up to us to decide what we leave behind, and how we are ultimately remembered for when the curtain rolls down.
It is a bittersweet record, this one. Released months after Carpentier’s untimely passing in 2017, it is ultimately a celebration of his decade-long partnership with childhood friend Solf, filled with messages of positivity, renewal and melancholy. By the time Her was formed, in 2015, Simon had already been battling the disease for 5 years – the two friends always knew their time together was going to be limited, and that their career was destined to be a short one. But in the few years between its formation and Simon’s tragic passing in August 2017, the duo crafted their own original sound, released beautiful music and made a name for themselves. With Simon on guitar and Victor on vocals, they first popped up on the radar with one of their earliest singles, Five Minutes, which deservedly legitimized the duo’s sky-high ambitions. Well, being the soundtrack of Apple’s 2016 “Shot on iPhone” ad probably explains part of the song’s Spotify stream count [Author’s note: more than 30 million at the time of this article], but it was clear from the start that the two friends were onto something different – equal parts seduction and elegance, their trademark sound is an eclectic yet weirdly consistent mashup of electro, pop, soul and rock.
Even though Simon’s premature death left the finalization and most of the promotion of the record at the hands of Victor, Her’s debut is a joint effort from beginning to end. In the months prior to its release, and determined not to be caught off guard by the ever-looming tragedy, the duo decided to layout the blueprint for the album – and went much further than what it should sound like. The result? Well, the result is a complete and complex package, complemented with elegant videos and overall aesthetic that perfectly reflect the identity, soul and mood that the long-time friends were aiming for since the start. One might imagine how hard it must have been for Victor to finish the record on his own, but he openly talks about how it was sort of a therapeutic process – Icarus was written in memory of Simon, as was Shuggie, a homage to his friend’s deep love for the American signer-songwriter.
Her’s debut is one of those records where, truth be told, all songs sound amazing – this isn’t true, obviously, but it is such a cleverly assembled album that you do get this feeling when listening to it. The two friends perfectly blend the groove and funk that provides the uplifting tone of their sound with the melancholy and powerful lyrics that elevate the whole package further. Blossom Roses is a great example of this – if musically the song is already a prime specimen of Her’s groovy and seductive trademark sound, the lyrics, which emphasize the importance of overcoming difficulties and are amongst some of the most poetic and intimate lyrics the duo ever wrote, take the whole thing to a different level.
Victor openly talks about how Simon’s positive mentality was the key for him to be able to finish the record after his passing. As he puts it, “We never talked about death, or feeling hopeless. All the time he was the opposite. We were always talking about hope and life and love”. And indeed this is what Her ultimately is about: love and relationships, life and hope. It is a record with a very positive and strong attitude – if it was ever possible for an album to have such attributes. A great example of this sunny-side-up feeling is Swim, supposedly written following a US tour just as Donald Trump became president. Rather than writing an anti-Trump song, like most artists at the time were doing and as the duo originally wanted, the two friends ended up recording a message of positivity for the American people who still had hope, a message to swim against the tide. And when you listen to it, indeed you feel like you can take on the whole world by yourself – give the song a spin on your way to work [Author’s note: perfect now that lockdown is finally over!] and tell me if I’m wrong. But we can go further back, to first song ever released by Her, to fully acknowledge that Simon and Victor had indeed crafted something different right from the start – Quite Like is a fantastic tune, a melodic beat with distorted guitar hook that is still praised for its seemingly simplicity. In other words, not at all what you would expect from an electronic duo from France.
As always, I recommend that you listen to the entire thing, and in order [Author’s note: how most albums should be listened to, I might add], but other standouts include Neighbourhood, one of the duo’s most famous songs, On & On, a darker collaboration with German rock mammoths AnnenMayKantereit and Belgium rapper Roméo Elvis and Wanna Be You, my personal favourite. For the end, I would also like to highlight the duo’s live performances, the likes of which unfortunately we will only be able to listen to on Youtube and Spotify – since everything is played live, each song is quite different from the studio renditions, having more of a rock atmosphere. With this in mind, do yourself a favour and listen to Her Live Tape #2, a live recording of one of Her’s last performances at the Gaité Lyrique in Paris.
“We chose the way we’ll be remembered” – no one else can decide for us. Rest assured Mr. Carpentier, you did leave a great legacy behind.