Agar Agar are a Parisian boy-girl synthpop duo who formed at art school, and although it’s perhaps harsh to suggest that that’s all you need to know, there’s simultaneously a feeling that if you asked an AI to imagine an album by a Parisian boy-girl synthpop duo who formed at art school, it would produce something not unlike Player Non Player. That’s not to say that Agar Agar’s second album is bad, or even that generic – there’s plenty to love here, particularly in the way the band rummages through long-lost musico-cultural detritus (mainly ’90s trip-hop) and repackages it so crisply – but it does mean that a formulaic quality washes over some of the songs and renders them rather indistinguishable from one another by the album’s close.
That said, highlights and missteps are easy enough to discern: in the former category, ‘Trouble’ filters ’90s breakbeat hardcore though an indie-pop lens, as if St Etienne had swapped Croydon for the Paris suburbs, and the glistening synths, robot riffs and Clara Cappagli’s blank singing style combine to great effect on opener ‘Grass’. ‘It’s Over’, too, has a steely drive that rounds out the record with impressive intent. Elsewhere, however, ‘Dude on Horse’, with its refrain of “He’s a dude on a horse with no horse”, is a study in detachment that, despite being the album’s strongest earworm, falls just the wrong side of the clever-clever line to fully connect, and although it might not be entirely unintentional that ‘Plaine’ sounds like a parade of Windows 95 alert sounds, the effect is nonetheless rather alienating.
A computer-game version of the album is apparently in the works, and it’s easy to foresee how that medium would complement Agar Agar’s playful, melodic songwriting. In its current incarnation, though, Player Non Player is chic but aloof, a stylistic triumph full of eloquently written pop but in need of a little more soul.