NAUGHTY DOG [EP]
In seeking out music to enhance their brand, fashion houses betray the way they want to be seen in the world. “Fashion needs a context,” the editor Joan Juliet Buck once exclaimed; beyond lending transfusions of their potent influencer blood, musicians provide just that: a sense of presence, physicality, and life to garments that would otherwise hang limply on the rack.
The best of these collaborations find artist and designer meeting each other at a shared sensibility, pushing the provocations of each other’s work until the contours of art and design not only are indistinguishable from another, but also conspire to warp reality altogether (see Telfar’s gospel concerts, Hood by Air’s runway terrorism, Rick Owens’s iconic S/S ‘14 step show, and the rave-inflected back catalogues of Raf Simons and Helmut Lang). The worst of these collaborations leave you slack-jawed at the narrow horizons and poor imaginations of industry vampires, fashion too limited by its addiction to glamor, youth, and thinness to examine why it feels compelled to pass its psychic complexes off as “cool” at all (see the entire career of Hedi Slimane).
It was somewhat perfect, then, that when Rihanna closed Fenty x Puma S/S ‘18 on the back of a red motorcycle, the song she rode out to was “Doom” by Coucou Chloe. Like RiRi, Chloe’s music is hook-laden, genre-omnivorous, and fiercely unbothered, as outwardly side-eyed as it is centered in itself. The essence of both women’s work is a confidence so powerful that it terraforms the universe into their own personal playgrounds, navigating and subverting worldly chaos with an energy that some might call “swagger” but others might call “grace.”
But where they intersect on a sartorial level, they couldn’t be further apart musically. As a member of the face-melting London collective, Nuxxe, Chloe’s responsible for crafting some of the most sinister and abrasive dance music today, tracks that surge, pulse, and leave you breathless in their wake. Where Rihanna masterfully weaves strands of hip-hop, reggae, and EDM into pop, Chloe takes on the most confrontational strains of house, techno, and rap production and synthesizes them into ultra-dynamic new forms. Listen to a given Coucou Chloe song and you’ll hear the jackhammering percussion of footwork, the 808 rattles and bass flourishes of trap, the gasps and lurches of deconstructed club music, and the foul weather moodiness of witch house and weightless grime.
Toward the end of her last record, 2017’s excellent Erika Jane EP, Chloe demonstrated the breadth of her talents with an ominous ambient track called “The Letter.” The song suggested she might follow the path from chaos to disquiet that other club experimentalists like Rabit and Celestial Trax have taken. But on her latest EP, NAUGHTY DOG, Chloe splits the difference with a collection of some of her most fun and atmospheric work to date.
Like label mate Shygirl, the calm center of Chloe’s music is her ultra-casual, ultra-modulated vocals, a chilly French drawl that can read as both completely menacing and completely over it. On earlier tracks like “Stamina” and “Flip U,” Chloe’s voice would duck and weave through the maze of her production, but on NAUGHTY DOG, Chloe often treats it as another element in the mix. On “LAID-BACK,” her voice cycles through pitches over vents of bass, while on “GECKO” her deadpan “na-na-na’s” ground the track between ribbons of inscrutable, ultra-fast rapping. Like witch house vanguards Salem, Chloe uses rap more texturally than textually, the melodic value of a voice rapping is of more interest than scoring points in a cypher.
Her production throughout is damn-near flawless. The muted-pinwheel synths and muscular drum programming of “SILVER B” provide ample space for Chloe to flex, while the stuffed-to-the-gills background of “GECKO” recalls the cyclical Hounds of Hell instrumental for “Aquababe” by Azealia Banks. “WAITING,” which was the only track produced by emo-trap pioneer Lederrick, is a sluggish Ambien-trip of a song that Chloe buckles down on with muted verses and woozy vocal processing. It’s an impressive resume for seriously taking on work with rappers (see also the Coucou Chloe-produced “Jet” from Nadia Tehran’s recent album Dozakh: All Lovers Hell), although she’d need to be more spacious with her beats to leave room for bars.
In interfacing with fashion, artists run the risk of having their work written off as frivolous: extensions of an ad campaign rather than a distinct cultural offering — or, if they’re photogenic and stylish (as Chloe is), taken wholly at face value. It’s a sentiment that’s rubbed Chloe the wrong way before, prompting her to tweet declarations like “I MAKE MUSIC” to remind haters that she’s more than just the meme of “Billie Eilish’s big sister.” While NAUGHTY DOG is ultimately too slight of an offering and too diffuse of a statement to fully define Chloe on the merits of her musicianship, the EP showcases an excellent producer with a skilled hand at twisting cool and confrontational sounds into a style that is wholly her own.