Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Peggy Gou I Hear You


Last year, Peggy Gou made a worldwide hit. Up until the moment that it happened, this didn’t seem especially likely. Gou was a well-known figure in the dance-music intelligentsia, the type of ultra-cool DJ who hangs out with Four Tet and plays terrifyingly fashionable European clubs. She was hugely successful in her universe, jetting all over the planet and maintaining a record label and clothing line as well as managing her own career. But her music — sparse, textured, perfectly manicured, in touch with its place in dance history — didn’t exactly seem likely to break out of its bubble and into the larger world. A track like 2019’s “Starry Night,” Gou’s biggest single until last year, is catchy and slinky and hypnotic, but it’s defined, at least in part, by its chilliness. That was not the case with “(It Goes Like) Nanana.”

“(It Goes Like) Nanana” is shameless. Over a relentlessly bouncy ’90s house beat, Gou sings about a nameless feeling that’s overflowing in her soul. The feeling goes like “na na na,” and that meaningfully meaningless phrase just happens to work as a sugar-rush singalong chorus, which just happens to sound great over booming kickdrums and classically hammering pianos. In a TikTok that went viral last summer, Gou, looking unbelievably cool, sings along with her own track while DJing at a festival in Morocco. From there, the single took off — #5 in the UK, #1 in the Netherlands and Belgium, huge all over Europe, top of the US dance charts. This was quite an accomplishment for a cool-kid dance DJ on an independent label. But when you listen to “Nanana,” that success doesn’t exactly feel mysterious. Some songs sound like hits, and “Nanana” is one of them.

Peggy Gou grew up in between South Korea, where she was born, and London, where her parents sent her to study. She fell in love with clubbing as a teenager, graduated the London College Of Fashion, and moved to Berlin, where she taught herself to DJ. Gou has been in Berlin for a decade now, and she’s racked up all kinds of firsts in her DJ career, excelling in a space that’s been dominated by white men since it first came into existence. Gou has steadily built a huge career, but “(It Goes Like) Nanana” wasn’t the logical next step in that progression. Instead, it was a sudden and meteoric spike. The song seems to have unlocked something new in Gou’s music. Now, her stuff makes perfect sense even to those of us who don’t know what the inside of Berghain smells like.

Peggy Gou has been putting out records for more than a decade, but her brand-new LP I Hear You is her first proper studio album. The tracks on I Hear You don’t move like the patient, thoughtful ones on her EPs. She’s going for blood on this one. I Hear You works within the lineage of ’90s dance that inspired the record, but it also sounds like a pop album. The tracks are short and sharp and punchy, and the hooks abound. I Hear You isn’t cool. It’s too busy having fun for that.

There are a few defined paths for high-profile albums from dance producers, and I Hear You doesn’t fit any of them. It’s not a nightclub-odyssey record, with long tracks that blur into one another, nor is Peggy Gou interested in a parade of famous guest vocalists, though a couple of them do pop up. The single “I Believe In Love Again” randomly features some slick falsetto vocals from Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz tells Stereogum that the two met at a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner in Miami. Their collaboration is the hottest thing that Kravitz has done since that costume he made for Katniss in The Hunger Games.

The Puerto Rican rapper Villano Antillano also appears on the slinky “All That,” but Peggy Gou does most of her own vocals, singing sometimes in English and sometimes in Korean. In either language, she’s precise and controlled, almost conversational. That style worked for her when she was crafting relatively spare club tracks, but it works even better when she’s making all-out bangers like “(It Feels Like) Nanana.” When she’s singing big hooks about huge, apocalyptic emotions, the reserved tone of her voice makes for a great sense of contrast. She’s not belting out passionate gospel-derived disco whoops — Lenny Kravitz is honestly the closest thing to a traditional diva on the album — but big feelings flow out of her just the same.

The 10 tracks on I Hear You mess around with different sonic ideas, but they all work together. Gou’s voice is one unifying element, and her songcraft is another. These are all sleek, expensive-sounding tracks that could conceivably appear on commercials for luxury goods, but they’re too frisky and physical to work as background music. “Purple Horizons” has the classic breakbeats and shimmering keyboard melodies of early-’90s dance-pop; I like any song where a deep voice commands the word “bass!” right before the bassline arrives. “I Go” is delirious, pogo-happy synthpop. “Back To One” is the kind of track that might make you visualize your grocery store’s pet-food aisle as a catwalk in Milan. All these songs sound like anthems in one way or another, but they’re never overbearing. The hooks don’t slap you in the head; they sidle up to you and whisper in your ear.

Right now, the track I’m stuck on is the utterly ridiculous “Lobster Telephone.” The backing track is just awesomely cheap — full-on Latin-freestyle electro-boogie with insidious bleep-riffs and weightless dings and funky-ass 808 bass-bursts. It could’ve been made for a Miami roller disco in 1988, but then it would’ve had some very different vocals. This one has Peggy Gou singing softly in Korean. I don’t understand her lyrics, but her voice thrums with joy — the kind you feel when you’re smiling to yourself, not when you’re broadcasting your own ecstasy to the world. I’ve never heard anything quite like it before. It’s addictive.

At this point, Peggy Gou is one of the biggest dance DJs in the world. After “(It Goes Like) Nanana,” she can pretty much do whatever she wants. What she wants to do, at least for now, is make bangers. I Hear You is a summer album, a record full of big hooks and endorphin-rush moments. It’s not a grand artistic statement, and thank god for that. Sometimes, the world just needs hits. Peggy Gou has already made one of those, and I don’t think it’ll be her last.

I Hear You is out 6/7 on XL Recordings.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Charli XCX’s Brat
• Candy’s It’s Inside You
• Goat Girl’s Below The Waste
• Kaytranada’s Timeless
• Tems’ Born In The Wild
• Good Looks’ Lived Here For A While
• Umbra Vitae’s Light Of Death
• NxWorries’ Why Lawd?
• 42 Dugg’s 4eva Us Neva Them
• Pedro The Lion’s Santa Cruz
• Bonny Light Horseman’s Keep Me On Your Mind/See You Free
• Strand Of Oaks’ Miracle Focus
• Missing Link’s Watch Me Bleed
• Actress’ Statik
• Eels’ Eels Time!
• Man Man’s Carrot On Strings
• Insect Ark’s Raw Blood Singing
• Angélica Garcia’s Gemelo
• Swim Deep’s There’s A Big Star Outside
• SECT’s Plagues Upon Plagues
• FaltyDL’s In The Wake Of Wolves
• Bad History Month’s bh1
• Boycomma’s Stress Starving
• Perennial’s Art History
• Kossisko’s SLAYERZ BALL
• Apocalyptica’s Apocalyptica Plays Metallica Vol. 2
• Nduduzo Makhathini’s uNomkhubulwane
• Bathe Alone’s I Don’t Do Humidity
• Seasick Steve’s A Trip A Stumble A Fall Down On Your Knees
• Hippotraktor’s Stasis
• The Mysterines’ Afraid Of Tomorrows
• Alisa Amador’s Multitudes
• Razor Braids’ Big Wave
• Alfie Templeman’s Radiosoul
• Bloomsday’s Heart Of The Artichoke
• Casey MQ’s Later that day, the day before, or the day before that
• Reunion Island’s Night Words
• French Cassettes’ Benzene
• Marina Allen’s Eight Pointed Star
• Logan Lynn’s SOFTCORE
• Paul Benjaman’s My Bad Side Wants A Good Time
• Nat Harvie’s New Virginity
• Rose Hotel’s A Pawn Surrender
• AURORA’s What Happened To The Heart?
• Margaux’s Inside The Marble
• L’Impératrice’s Pulsar
• Terry Green’s Provisional Living
• Matt Hunter & The Dusty Fates’ Reindeer Soul
• Men Seni Suyemin’s BELIEVE
• Holy Wire’s The Ending Of An Age
• JD Pinkus’ Grow A Pear
• Hub New Music & Kojiro Umezaki’s a distance, intertwined
• Fine’s Rocky Top Ballads
• Sissy Misfit’s EXXXOSKELETON
• Leisure Hour’s The Sunny Side
• The Halo Trees’ Where The Deep Ends
• Ginger Winn’s STOP-MOTION
• All Under Heaven’s What Lies Ahead Of Me
• VOIDGAZER’s Dance Of The Undesirables
• Blair Gun’s There Are No Rival Clones Here
• Evan Honer’s Fighting For
• Orlando Weeks’ LOJA
• Anta’s Organesson
• Huntsmen’s The Dry Land
• Rarity’s Lower Feeling
• Clara La San’s Made Mistakes
• Maya Vik’s Hustlebot
• FREQz’s Grizzly Peak
• Elkka’s Prism Of Pleasure
• Smerz & GAEA’s Tidligere den dagen
• Carly Pearce’s Hummingbird
• Psychic Graveyard’s Wilting
• Aatmaa’s Cataclysm
• Bon Jovi’s Forever
• Meghan Trainor’s Timeless
• Yelawolf’s War Story
• The IYKYK compilation
• Robert Hunter’s Tales Of The Great Rum Runners (Deluxe Edition)
• From Ashes To New’s Blackout (Deluxe)
• Bass Drum Of Death’s LIVE….And LET DIE live album
• Margo Guryan’s Words & Music box set
• Fanny’s Live On Beat-Club ’71-’72
• Aloe Blacc’s Rock My Soul Vol. 1 EP
• Shygirl’s CLUB SHY RMX EP
• Slow Joy’s Mi Amigo Slow Joy EP
• Only The Poets’ One More Night EP
• Chrissy Chlapecka’s Girlie Pop EP
• Thin Lear’s A Beach Of Nightly Glory EP
• Paige Stark’s Good At Love EP
• Pretty Girl’s Get Back To Me EP
• Loveletter’s Testament EP
• Jasper Tygner’s Things To Come EP
• Festa Del Perdono’s Società Mentale EP
• Bird Language’s Chasing Echos EP

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