The jewel in this year's crown, though, is Tour Á Tour, a debut album that sees Apollonia make the brave, if not unpredictable, transition from the dance floor to the studio. As its name suggests (the literal translation is "to take turns"), it seeks to translate the fluid synchronicity of their back-to-back-to-back DJ style into an LP.
From the outset that sounds a little problematic. It's long been said that club music struggles with the album format—in a recent interview with Andrew Ryce, dubstep innovator Pinch asserted that dance music is "not meant to be listened to like that" (prompting further discussion in the latest Critics Roundtable). The feeling is that, rather than possessing the layered personality of a great album, dance LPs too often sound drawn out, with an end product that resembles little more than an oversized EP. But Pinch says something else too: "Dance music is about continuous music presented by DJs, so I think that the more honest document is in the mix format." This is where Tour Á Tour is interesting: it's an album of unmixed club cuts built to capture the energy of a continuous mix.
As tangled as that may sound, Apollonia make a decent job of it. Crucially, the production values across all 13 tracks are high, which isn't surprising when you consider the trio's collective studio experience. After a short, smoky bed of police sirens and Rasta mutterings to ease us in, the album drops straight into "June," a wonderfully moody track that will have you locked from the off. From there the vibe gets more upbeat, using frisky synths ("Mouche Tse Tse") and propulsive basslines ("Sona") to slowly crank up the energy. At this stage, then, "Piano," with its soft, heartwarming chords, feels a little out of place, though it's a blip that's soon forgotten once you're in the snakelike clutches of "Chez Michael," or the techier throes of "Mercato."
The rest of the album continues to explore various shades of Apollonia's sound, a bullish yet effortlessly slick style of house. Only on a handful of occasions, usually during an intro or outro, does its buoyancy sag. And it's not all booming 4/4s either: closing track "Haight Street" lays the same misty pads and muffled patois from the intro over raw drum breaks and tuneful twinkles to striking effect. When they DJ, Apollonia have a remarkable ability to keep their audience rapt and moving at all times. In less talented hands, it's easy to imagine the same rolling, stripped-back records causing the dance floor to lose focus. Something similar is at play on Tour Á Tour: in and of themselves, these tracks aren't much more than useful DJ tools, but consumed together as a whole, they embody an infectious feeling that is unmistakably Apollonia.