Charlotte Adigéry / Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer

Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul’s Topical Dancer is as blunt and emphatic as pop art—if you don’t get its bright, assertive takedowns, you’re not paying attention. The Belgian musicians take as much pleasure in sardonically dressing down racism, misogyny, and xenophobia as they do in crafting effortlessly propulsive electro pop fit for warehouse parties. That mischievous friction is at the heart of Topical Dancer, a riveting debut from two artists whose music pokes you in the side as often as it makes you move.

Released on veteran Belgian duo Soulwax’s DEEWEE label, Topical Dancer openly draws on that group’s sweaty, mid-’00s-flavored blend of rock and electronic music. (Soulwax also contributed co-production and writing to the album.) Miss Kittin and Felix Da Housecat’s talky electroclash is also a prominent touchstone, but this isn’t a throwback by any means—the album’s brisk, burly synth lines and walloping beats are powerful weapons in Adigéry and Pupul’s arsenal. The pair met over a decade ago in Ghent, forming a friendship that became a working one after Soulwax paired them up to contribute music to the 2016 film Belgica. They put out the excellent Zandoli EP under Adigéry’s name in 2019; Topical Dancer reaffirms their music as the collaborative project it’s always been.

That close kinship is key to an album riddled with in-jokes and oddities. The funky “Making Sense Stop,” inspired by David Byrne, progressively chops up and rearranges each verse’s lyrics until they become gleeful, digital gibberish; the crawling, loungey “Huile Smisse” parodies French speakers who love to hear themselves talk (the title is the French phonetic spelling of Will Smith’s name). Later, on the endlessly replayable “HAHA,” Adigéry’s gut-busting laugh is sampled and rewired into a strutting hook, while the chorus crumples into a choked-up sob. Topical Dancer thrives in these irreverent moments, where the duo’s wry humor injects subversive surprises into dance music’s familiar forms.

In a recent interview, Adigéry and Pupul explained that the decision to focus on hot-button issues came from the pair’s daily experiences as artists from immigrant backgrounds living in Europe: nosy yet excessively apologetic reporters, white Belgians genuinely confused as to why they can’t use the n-word, and the cycle of outrage and finger-pointing that manifests when people get too insulted. Instead of chastising (or, god forbid, canceling), Adigéry and Pupul are more interested in gentle ribbing. Bustling electro-pop song “Blenda” recasts a racist line into a memorable singsong: “Go back to your country where you belong,” Adigéry sweetly intones. “Siri, can you tell me where I belong?” The album’s lyrics, which dart between English, French, and Creole, frequently underline the limits of PC culture with good intentions, even as they sometimes fall flat. “Are you as offended when nobody’s watching?” Adigéry ponders alongside a chattering drum pattern on “Esperanto.” “Are you an attacker or a victim?” Their tongues are planted firmly in cheek, but here it becomes didactic.

Updated: March 8, 2022 — 12:00 pm