Héloïse Letissier, more commonly known as Christine and the Queens, dropped her new EP, La Vita Nuova, right before my wave of impending deadlines. It’s safe to say that this new release has been repeated countless times on my Spotify, accompanying me through these uncertain times.
Contrasting her latest full album, Chris, La Vita Nuova slams the breaks on. This EP is a vulnerable and honest five-track piece, which uses slower tempos to thrust Chris’ seamless vocals into the spotlight. The deconstruction of polar binaries is a feature which runs throughout Chris’ work, both musically and lyrically, and La Vita Nuova is no exception. Much like Chris herself, the EP merges the best of seemingly contrasting worlds: ferocity and tenderness, femininity and masculinity, heartbreak and empowerment.
The EP’s opening track, ‘People, I’ve Been Sad’, plays like a sincere confession to its listeners. Its relaxed tempo, layering of soft synth sounds and poignant vocals are a melancholy call and response. The track’s foundations create the perfect blend of contagious musical phrasing and energy, whilst also maintaining sombreness. Lyrically, Christine extends a hand to the listener whilst upholding a certain level of privacy; ‘you know the feeling’, she tentatively suggests, as if we are old friends that she addresses. The bridge, which is sung in French instead of English, is a series of lines repeated like a prayer. Little more than Chris’ voice lulls me into a state of hypnotic relaxation, before an instrumental buildup erupts into the final chorus.
‘Je disparais dans tes bras’ and ‘I disappear in your arms’, two linguistically different versions of the same song, mirror tracks on past albums such as ‘Doesn’t matter’ and ‘Goya soda’. This track is moody, with low synth drones and driving drum beat, capturing its assertiveness perfectly. Now, it never fails to amaze me how effortlessly Chris alternates between languages, making her songs accessible to a large, diverse audience. I listened to the French version of this song first, and even without knowing the meaning of the lyrics, the desperation and frustration directed towards the anonymous lover were palpable. It is truly a sign of exceptional musicality if you can make an audience understand your meanings, without them having any knowledge of the language.
Onto ‘Mountains (we met)’, my personal favourite from the EP. Posed in a simple yet powerful ballad style, this is a song scattered with raw emotion. Chris’ angelic, soft voice is truly the star of the show here, and the haunting violin harmonies add an integral, vulnerable depth to the music. Lyrics such as ‘Why are you leaving?’ and ‘Now pretend that you’re the one with me’ are an emotional jab in the gut and an absolute anthem for the nostalgic.
Remember what I said about Chris’ language mastery? Next up is ‘Nada’. Yep, this one uses Spanish! The title translation is ‘Nothing’, which is rather fitting given the solemn discussion of loss and disillusionment of love in this song. From ‘I disappear in your arms’ to ‘Nada’, the EP plays like the development of a break up. In the former, Chris sings ‘don’t you dare ask of the world to stop just as you leave’, addressing a seemingly unresponsive partner. By ‘Nada’, she simply states ‘never, ever, ever coming back again’, asserting control and finality.
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The final track is the EP’s namesake, ‘La Vita Nuova’, featuring Caroline Polachek – American singer-songwriter and record producer. In this song, Chris tips her hat to Dante Alighieri, the medieval poet with a work of the same name. The classical influence can be heard right from the opening. A haunting melody is sung elegantly by Chris, paired with synth pedal notes, before layering in drums to break into an upbeat chorus full of chaotic attitude. It’s rare that a song can make me feel like I am simultaneously sitting on a deserted mountain, and bopping on an empty dance floor! The rich vocal tones of Chris and Caroline are woven together effortlessly, both women crooning a verse each in Italian, either side of the first chorus.
That’s not all, though. Released alongside the EP is a breathtaking short film packaged with all five songs.
For those not familiar with Chris’ work, dance and cinematics is an important part of her artistry, and the video for La Vita Nuova does not disappoint. Shot across various locations (a rooftop, an empty theatre hall, a dance floor), the scope of this film is ambitious. Nonetheless, every second of storytelling, from relationships to a queer twist on Dante’s classic tale, is immaculate. The cinema toys with light and dark tones in location and costume, before reaching a conclusion, erupting in the duet’s choreography. Deep purples and pinks intensify the undeniable on screen chemistry between the singers, and deepen their connection with their audience.
La Vita Nuova is a completely innovative release which exposes Chris’ vulnerability, making this EP utterly different from her previous albums. It has shown that she is not afraid of discussing complex emotions. Frustration, loss, love, you name it, it’s there in a confidently crafted musical-visual project. Her unique style and androgynous appearance allow her to continue exploring what it means to be a woman, as she has done in her previous albums.
There is absolutely no denying, at this point, that Chris has a unique gift. The volume of talent packed into just one EP release leaves me endlessly excited for what she could do next. Maybe by then, I’ll be fluent in French.