French songstress Émilie Simon is but one person, but she sure knows how to create a lot of sound. Ranging from computer-generated sonics to acoustic piano, The Big Machine is an appropriate name for Simon’s second U.S. release of playful electro-pop songs as it conjures the image of her using one big music machine on her own to create the album. Though danceable and pop-oriented, Simon’s latest release is more for those looking for a concept album rather than some club beats.
The album plays with elements both electronic and acoustic throughout, beginning with lead single “Rainbow.” There’s a definite ’80s feel to Simon’s swelling, muddy synths and computerized horns and strings, but her use of piano and more modern production techniques makes it completely fitting for today. “Rainbow” is also just the beginning of learning about Simon’s great vocal range that effortlessly sweeps from top to bottom, similar to that of Regina Spektor. Simon totally commits to the vocals on each track with a carefree approach that perfectly hits each note.
Though Simon’s vocals have a pretty quality to them, they definitely have an edge like those of Tori Amos, particularly in Simon’s higher range. She can be very sweet sounding and delicate, then turn on you and be loud and powerful without seeming forced. “Nothing To Do With You” and “Chinatown” showcase her passionate and versatile voice and allow it to stand out more against the accompaniment. These tracks also begin to show you Simon’s craftsmanship as an artist and composer as she continually surprises you with time changes, mood swings and varied influences.
For someone who composed the French soundtrack to the 2006 documentary March Of The Penguins, we shouldn’t be taken aback by Simon’s range of influence on The Big Machine. We hear big band in “Rocket To The Moon,” some Stevie Nicks-inspired foundations in “This Is Your World” and piano pop throughout. It feels like each track features Simon assuming a different role while concocting a new formula to run through her big music machine.