Chromeo brilliantly pastiches the throwback sounds of disco, funk and cheesy rock, with a heavy dose of Hall and Oates soul presented with hip-hop bravado. Over the band’s first four albums and its rise to stardom, the formula was irresistibly fun, reliably funny and undeniably over-the-top as it played with the tropes of pop music in songs about sex and love and the like.
But along the way to its Grammy-nominated fifth album — “Head Over Heels,” released last year — Chromeo found its own voice and its own sound.
“Right now, Chromeo is self-generating,” guitarist and lead vocalist Dave1 said in an interview before one of the band’s two New Year’s Eve sets in Aspen, while the duo was working on what would become “Head Over Heels.” “We can do a song that sounds like Chromeo. We don’t have to sound like Hall and Oates anymore. And I think now is the time to make the quintessential Chromeo songs.”
That new sound involves mostly live instrumentation – less from the DJ console than ever – with Dave1 and P-Thugg crafting sing-along choruses, some arch humor and an un-ironic embrace of disco dancing on new songs like “Juice,” “One Track Mind,” the French Montana/Stefflon Don collaboration “Don’t Sleep” and the DRAM collaboration “Must’ve Been.” The Montreal-bred, New York-based duo and self-proclaimed “funk lordz” spent four years making the record and finding their own voice.
“We’re our own reference now, and it’s time to make them bigger and more ambitious than they’ve ever been but also sweeter,” Dave1 explained.
The duo has become an Aspen staple in recent years, including a memorable X Games performance at Buttermilk in 2015, followed by two straight New Year’s Eve shows and frequent stops for concerts and DJ sets at Belly Up Aspen (where the band returned on Thursday night).
They’ll headline the Aspen Skiing Co.’s free Core Party downtown on Friday night, the centerpiece of local spring break events running through March 24. Chromeo is in the middle of the third leg of a world tour in support of “Head Over Heels,” which will bring the duo back to Colorado with a full band to headline Red Rocks’ “Funk on the Rocks” in May.
Another local funk favorite, Robert Randolph and the Family Band – making their second trip to Aspen this winter, following a late December set at the Wheeler Opera House – will play the Core Party stage on Saturday.
Formed in 2002, Chromeo’s signature mix of musical parody and good-time dance music, it turns out, has its roots in a decidedly brainy approach. Up until the band’s 2014 album “White Women” and the breakout success of tracks like “Jealous (I Ain’t With It),” “Sexy Socialite” and “Fancy Footwork,” Dave1 was working toward a Ph.D in French literature at Columbia University.
Immersed in semiotics and literary theory, he broke down and deconstructed the pop music that he loved and built Chromeo from the sparkling shards.
“We knew that our canon would be this funk music from the late ’70s into the ’80s, and we studied what was used to do it, what the tropes were, and we wanted to subvert it,” he explained, “to make it sound like they were done by two goofy kids from Canada, which we were.”
He and P-Thugg mined poppiest of pop music from the late disco and early “yacht rock” era and tossed in touches of classic rock and hip-hop excess to make something new and distinctly Chromeo’s that is sometimes aggressively tongue-in-cheek and sometimes baldly sincere.
“I always felt like ’80s funk music was a really cool sign system, and I knew that all of the signs in there are things you’d get a kick out of seeing again,” Dave1 explained. “That’s why we went that route, but then we re-contextualized it, and we blended it with other specific signifiers — whether it be a neurotic Woody Allen-esque persona singing the lyrics and classic rock artwork, or a tough-guy, hip-hop sensibility.”
Longtime Woody Creeker John Oates and the genre-bending work he did with Daryl Hall, was a model for Dave1 and P-Thugg.
“What they were doing was like a hybrid appropriation of black soul music,” Dave 1 said of Hall and Oates. “They blended it with their distinct voice and their Philadelphia local tradition, and with other influences like prog and folk. So it turned into this delicious pop music. That, in many ways, inspired us, because we saw that we could stay true to the city we come from — Montreal — and we could blend other influences as well.”