The multifaceted Oklou scores big with her first mixtape Galore, out today on TaP Records.
Marylou Mayniel is Oklou, a French producer and songwriter whose work we’ve been covering for a while. After giving us little drops of material every few months for the past couple of years, Mayniel is now releasing her first full-length project, a mixtape called Galore. Championed by pop industry spearheads like A.G. Cook or Mary-Anne Hobbs, Oklou is an artist that resists definition. Her first releases were sometimes wildly different from each other, as Mayniel tried her luck with synth-pop, R&B, bubblegum pop, and even ambient, to varying degrees of success.
Galore is not going to change that. Mayniel has mentioned that the songwriting process for the mixtape was one of soul-searching. It is only natural to question your character as an artist when you spend your first steps genre-hopping. She cast doubt over her own identity, even going as far as claiming that she didn’t exist as an artist yet.
Hopefully Galore has dispelled any doubts Mayniel might have had about her status as an artist. However, this is no rebirth – more of a doubling down, really. This wonderful, weird mixtape takes all the potential glimpsed in Oklou’s early tracks and goes all the way with it. Galore is supposed to be divided into three different parts, but you are none the wiser after learning that. Every song here is its own private island: “girl on my throne” is modern R&B built over a quasi-trap beat, opener “little one” is an extremely lo-fi short track merging live performance with field recording, while “nighttime” is the sort of heavily-autotuned, bubblegum pop ballad that would fall right into place in a Charli XCX album.
Galore never tries to pretend to be more than what it actually is. The word “mixtape” is often used liberally by artists who simply don’t want to raise the stakes when they’re putting out material that might not be up to standard. That’s not the case here. This is a proper mixtape, a collection of short pop songs that might all share the same open-hearted, straight-to-the-gut ethos, but that are ultimately rather varied in form. If there’s an underlying current here, that would be the heavy focus on melody. Galore has earworms for days, from the New Romantic playfulness of the title track to the slick and groovy “another night”, the sort of modern pop production job you would expect from pop music’s A-listers.
And therein lies the secret. At her young age, Oklou has become an accomplished producer, one who can seamlessly navigate through different genres and moods. Not only the production work is extremely careful, but every synth tone is also painstakingly chosen, every beat exactly matching up the energy of the vocal melody. It’s that every track is amplified and given their own singular treatment so they all live up to their potential. Even the more undercooked tracks, on paper more rough sketches than fully fleshed out songs, end up becoming some of the most appealing. For instance, “asturias” is an interlude that feels more like a one-minute chorus.
Part of Galore’s charm resides in how low-key it is. Every song is unusually brief, making the big genre leaps not jarring at all. Take “fall”, the album’s most straightforward track. It’s a sort of Gen-Z Carly Rae Jepsen song: a wide-eyed heartbreaker where bombast is replaced by minimalism. Just before the second chorus is over, the song suddenly ends and transitions into “unearth me”, one of the slow-burners Galore has to offer. Within the mixtape’s first six minutes, you’re already made aware that this is going to be a weird one.
Even the one outlier, the closer “i didn´t give up on you”, devotes more than half of its eight-minute running time to pure silence and a few nature ambient noises. It’s one of the rare moments where the mixtape signals towards something more grandiloquent only to make a complete 180. With acoustic guitar arpeggios floating over choir-esque synths, the track just falls short of being as moving as something off Frank Ocean’s Blonde. It is that good, which makes it even more unsatisfying when it just stops there instead of taking it all the way to Intense Town.
But in the end, that would be a betrayal of what Oklou has come to stand for. Galore may be carefully compartmentalised, every song standing in its own right, but these eleven tracks share the same heart. This is pop music at its most blunt and restless. These songs don’t just stay there lingering; they have an aim and they won’t overextend their welcome once it has been completed. It turns out that Oklou’s defining point as an artist is not her constant genre-hopping but the impressively concise and effective ways in which she shifts shape.