ne wonders what inspires a 23-year-old French girl to scream “Murder!” as the bottom falls out of an off-terrain electronic hellscape, her telltale heart marred only by a relentless rhythmic pulse. Welcome to the violent, gritty sex of Sir Alice’s eponymous sophomore album. This sort of art-for-art’s sake expressionism shouldn’t be a surprise at this point: Alice Daquet, under her Sir Alice alias, has been producing this sort of abrasive, no-wave noir since her first single dropped in early 2004. Sir Alice continues her already impressive tradition of unabashed noise and aggression, its jagged, extreme terrain impressing as much as her abrasive vocals frustrate.
A student of experimental music, some amount of jumping the shark should be expected, but Daquet comes dangerously close to losing the script mere minutes into Sir Alice. “Cadavre Exquis,” the lead track and home to the aforementioned “Murder!” squeal, very nearly drowns in its own art-fueled histrionics. Daquet rages against an aggressive electronic arrangement and a slight but menacing electric guitar.
The majority of Sir Alice is murky, ominous, and intentionally difficult. None of this is a problem, so long as Daquet can keep the ratio of interesting moments to absurd ones in check. And for the most part, she does: The album is a bit front-loaded with hostility—“Docteur” and “Psychophase” suffer from similarly unfocused aggression—but Daquet props up later tracks with skillful, nuanced composition.
“Un Crapaud” establishes a solid base of humming electronics and sparse guitar chords before inviting Daquet’s violent intonations. “Polaroide” succeeds as a molasses-slow trip-hop hymn, its enveloping organ and muffled snare hits sweet enough to hush Daquet to a whisper. Even during the album’s more restrained moments, it becomes clear that Daquet’s too-assertive vocal presence saps focus from too many of Sir Alice’s potential triumphs. Only on “Comptine,” on which Daquet adopts a surprising playground cadence, do her vocals truly add to her compositions.
Her role as a vocalist—specifically, her need to dominate each track—truly handicaps Sir Alice. Reared on the punk scene, Daquet has an angry, roughshod chant almost completely unconcerned with melody. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially given the bend of her music, but her voice is mixed extremely high, taking attention away from her adventurous compositions and putting it squarely on her unfocused scowl. Hers is a world of violence, sex, and high art, and she makes almost no attempt to express these themes subtly. On longer tracks, she seems overmatched, her punk-informed bleats unable to keep pace with her progressive, instrumental musings.
Sir Alice’s faults—dry vocals, over-aggression, overlong experimental passages—are nothing that more vigilant self-editing couldn’t correct. There’s a lot to like here, not the least of which is Daquet’s absolute rejection of the electro-diva role. On Sir Alice, Daquet is brave, uncompromising, and delightfully noisy. She’s also arrogant, foolish, and indulgent. Her frustrating mix of talent and folly is infinitely more grating than anything she puts to tape here. Daquet may yet reign as a noisy, no-wave innovator, but Sir Alice is too unfocused to serve as anything but a promising tease.