El Michels Affair Explore Cool-Headed Soul and Funk Sounds on ‘Adult Themes’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Leon Michels first appeared on an album when he was in high school. The album was Thunder Chicken by The Mighty Imperials, and it is filled with songs that provide the perfect soundtrack for a session at the roller rink. From there, he toured with Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings among many other projects. It’s fair to say then that he has a pretty solid background in soul and funk.

He’s still in the world of funk and soul. However, the funk and soul on Adult Themes by his project El Michels Affair is quite a bit different than the funk and soul of The Mighty Imperials or Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings.

The album kicks off with “Enfant,” a fitting song title simply because the style is so similar to the the French chanson style of the 60s. The melody is groovy with acoustic guitar and horns combining for a mellow sound that makes the song perfect for a little cafe. The vocals are breathy and pretty characteristic of the style – even if this isn’t a French group.

The interesting thing about this album is that it kind of falls into the funk and soul category however, this isn’t the funk of Bootsy Collins and nor is it the soul of someone like Sam Cooke. While it does have horn swells and complex melodies, it’s not what you’d expect from a funk and soul album. This is more a funk and soul album for a dark basement bar or for a bedroom. With the deliberate grooves and the muted melodies, you also wouldn’t be wrong to call this baby-making music.

Since there are no lyrics on this album, you have to tune in to the mood of the music from one song to the next. Some songs are slow and groovy, while other songs like “Rubix” have a bit of tension. The song moves at a slow tempo with a steady rhythm. The tension comes from the strings, which come in bursts and swells. It’s easy to imagine this song in a movie scene where the goal is to create some tension for the viewer. The band does a great job of creating mood throughout the album – from exultant to the mournful tones at the beginning “Adult Theme No. 4”. It’s all the more impressive since it is done strictly with instrumentation and not with lyrics. 

This album may not be the kind of album that will make you all sweaty from dancing, but it is a cool album that makes you appreciate just how potent an instrumental album can be. If you have a beret, you might want to put it on while you listen.

Photo credit: Emilia Ruiz Michels

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