Gesaffelstein’s knack for abrasively brilliant, horror movie-worthy pop productions has become so in demand the past decade, it’s no wonder we had to wait so long for his new album Hyperion to finally be released into the world. The man behind Kanye’s “Send It Up” and “Black Skinhead,” co-produced with Daft Punk and Brodinski, has refined his sound over the six years between albums. As his debut LP Aleph fully revealed back in 2013, there’s a timelessly clandestine and simultaneously modern, technology-driven anxiety laced into Gesaffelstein’s productions. That seems to be the filter through which his boundless imagination and pop-crafting instincts shine through on his latest offering, boasting an unexpected roster of collaborators that includes HAIM, The Hacker, and Electric Youth as well as The Weeknd and Pharrell, who appeared on the album’s singles.
And perhaps that filter of darkness and existential dread is best explained in the French producer’s own words: “I don’t know why I’m drawn to dark sounds. It’s like when you make a movie about love, that’s not your life, it’s the art you have made. It’s a fiction. The music is exactly the same. Although there is nothing dark in my life, I have a facility to understand dark emotion.” That highly commodified facility has its opportunity to come through in its purest form on Hyperion, that primes us from its opening title track to be prepared for a vast spectrum of sonic experience. To me, Gesaffelstein’s production magic lies not only in his sinister sound design, but the way he leaves room for a glimmer of bright sounds to shine through.
The second track “Reset” now seems like a shock of a first single, but I think he was setting a tone for this new album. The video, which we included below, follows the looping nature of the song itself with a visual that follows the evolution of mainstream rap’s aesthetic. It’s scathing albeit silent social commentary; there are no words to the song and no dialogue in the video, but it builds anxiety as more and more wannabe rappers appear in-frame, beginning to almost claw at each other to get up in front. The whole scene becomes shrouded in darkness at the very end as the slick, dark silhouette of Gesaffelstein appears at the end.
The very first words we hear on this album are The Weeknd’s opening line of “Lost in the Fire,” which combines distinctly French notions of romance with raw and domineering sexual tendencies. He then leaves us with another wordless track that functions as more of a moody interlude than a full-fledged song on “Ever Now.” It’s a set-up for the throbbing, new-wave crooner “Blast Off” made with the help of Pharrell, his final single off the album that was met with mixed reception. While the usual ebullient joy of Pharrell’s vocals starkly contrast with the angsty, melancholic ’80s vibe of the production, to me his voice is the light that shines through this otherwise foreboding song, that comes together in a big way on the final drop and chorus.
Next up, we hit another reflective moment on the album with “So Bad” featuring HAIM, whose airy vocals are woven into intricate, deeply satisfying harmonies. A dramatic, slow-burning beat leaves plenty of room for what feels like a sense of mourning as the HAIM sisters softly ask, “How could I be so wrong?” It really feels like “So Bad” is about to experience an energetic explosion at any moment, but he saves that catharsis for the next track “Forever” featuring The Hacker and Electric Youth. This synth-wave throwback starts out as something we might slow-dance to in the final school dance scene of an old teen movie, but proceeds to devolve into a squealing, glitchy synth inferno.
The final chapter of this album beginning with “Vortex” is far more forward-facing in its techno influence — cold, high-pitched sounds and anticipation-building strings usher in a mood of impending chaos that sets the stage for the last two songs. “Memora” is ominous yet alluring, with a seductive progression and a groove that feels like it has an R&B influence, and once we’ve been lulled into this rather placid state, he leaves us with “Humanity Gone.” The song runs over 10 minutes and progresses like an orchestral suite; it’s beautiful, classical, and very distinctly sad. It’s like he was right in the middle of showing us how we could uplift ourselves and popular culture from the mucky mire of chronic, watered-down imitation and then the world ended before we could fully realize our collective potential.
Suffice to say Hyperion is far from easy-listening, but it’s powerfully thrilling. In Greek mythology, Hyperion fathered the Sun, the star of our system keeps humanity and our planet alive every day. This album as a whole feels like a reminder that human creation hardly matters if our world goes dark from our own destruction — don’t miss a moment of it.