NC-17 Dreams: El Michels Affair’s Adult Themes

Chris Daly adjusts the lens on the newest full-length from the New York funk artist.
By    May 18, 2020

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In these trying times, Chris Daly has decided to set up an OnlyFans account.

One would be forgiven, if upon a cursory glance at the naked limbs on the cover and the track titles to El Michels Affair’s latest affair, Adult Themes, one assumed s/he had stumbled upon a crate digger’s dream, the lost soundtrack to an X-rated 70s flick. While bandleader Leon Michels acknowledges that the music “wasn’t exactly done with any film in mind,” between the lush strings, tight horns and funky undertones, the group that brought you those bong bong bong Wu-Tang instrumentals, this clearly is a nod to a groovier time when “adult cinema” rubbed shoulders with the art world.
With John Williams and Ennio Marricone winding down, it’s time for a new gun to take over the role of “the person you turn to to add musical depth to your film.” Adrian Younge has made strong strides in that direction, but Michels plays an elevated game on Adult Themes.  With the sensual “da da da da da da da” opening courtesy of a cooing Shannon Wise on the first track, “Enfant,” the band establishes an instant mood, a bygone era of vaseline-smeared camera lenses and different rules for body hair grooming. Tracks like the halting “Kill the Lights,” where woodwinds and keys giving way to a pulsating brass line, and “Hipps,” a rousing bird song in the morning kind of jam, do little to dissuade the erotic overtones implied throughout the album. Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that the more haunting “A Swift Nap” and “Life of Pablo,” which starts with Leon’s son, Pablo, crying, should have tracked later in the line-up than where they do, but that’s just getting nit-picky.

While social distancing standards maintain free love isn’t going to make a comeback anytime soon, that’s no reason you can’t unroll your bearskin rug in front of the fireplace, throw on Adult Themes and imagine what things will be like tomorrow.  El Michels has provided you with the soundtrack for that audio adventure.

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