by Matthew Kinlin
There was likely to be a few raised eyebrows when it was announced that the new release for underground Los Angeles label 100% Silk would be from Fort Romeau – the alias of UK producer Mike Norris, who is best known as the keyboardist for pop group La Roux.
The label, home to artists such as Blondes and Teengirl Fantasy, typically puts out music that has a homemade, DIY feel. Their decision to invite a mainstream pop producer into their exclusive fold may have troubled a few tastemakers.
However, whilst the release from Fort Romeau varies slightly from the label’s previous output, it is also one of their most successful to date.
Previous releases from 100% Silk have been imbued with a sense of distance, of dance music passed though and distorted by filters. Whereas with Kingdoms, the new mini LP from Fort Romeau, that sense of distance is removed. The sound is closer and much clearer.
After hearing the music from pop outfit La Roux, one might expect Norris to have continued playing with 80s electronic pop. However, under his new alias, he has produced an album filled with polished and lush deep house. The beats found on Kingdoms are luxurious, deep and opulent. In coming from the field of pop music, a genre that is drenched in polish, the album stands out on a label that has previously been criticised for output not being fully realised.
Norris’s influences seem rooted in house music, taking inspiration from figures such as recent house wunderkind Kyle Hall. The dusky sounds also remind of Air. However, these elements are expertly mixed with jackin’ house, liquid-like R&B vocals and warm analogue sounds.
The record starts off on its weakest foot with “Jack Rollin’”, which as the title suggests, channels jackin’ house. The track carries an energy and smoothness that is present throughout the whole album. However, the repetitive vocal used on the track becomes a little grating.
The use of vocals is most successful of “Say Something”, which pairs a smooth house beat with a well-groomed Mariah Carey vocal. The catchiness of the track demonstrates that thankfully Norris has not lost his pop instincts.
“Theo” is one of the more hard-hitting tracks on Kingdoms, mixing warm analogue sounds with a propulsive house bass. The track uses a sample that states: “Every time I wake up to go out”, which captures the hedonistic, nocturnal feel to the record.
The album highlight proves to be the slower, moodier “I Need U”, which uses a more restrained beat, soft pads of sound and a haunting vocal. It comes as a surprisingly emotional moment on an album that itself has defied expectations.
The inclusion of a pop producer on an underground music label may have irked a few people but the results cannot be disputed. Through approaching dance music from a different direction, Norris demonstrates just how valuable a bit of polish can be.
You can listen to a track from Fort Romeau Kingdoms for yourself here:
Fort Romeau Kingdoms New Album Review by Matthew Kinlin