Social media has become a powerful tool in driving streams across the music industry over the past decade. YouTube especially has been a leader in this shift due to its visual component that allows artists to share music videos, studio sessions and more. More recently, TikTok has taken a large role in driving music streams. Both of these platforms have helped resurrect Ylang Ylang, an EP from French Kiwi Juice, or FKJ, that was released in 2019.
Vincent Fenton, a 30-year-old French musician and singer, is one of the most eclectic artists I have ever listened to. His genre-bending sound cannot be pinned to anything in particular, but clearly takes heavy influence from jazz, blues and electronic music.
A friend of mine discovered FKJ’s Ylang Ylang through a TikTok video posted by Axel Tanner, @axeltanner. Tanner’s TikTok account provides music commentary and recommendations. On Jan. 18, Tanner posted a video on his TikTok highly recommending Ylang Ylang to his over 350,000 followers. The video garnered over 125,000 likes and over 750,000 views, sending a lot of new listeners to FKJ’s discography.
Those listeners would discover something fresh, creative and enlightening in FKJ's EP. The weightless sound that encompasses Ylang Ylang allows the track to breathe new air into any room you're listening in. And maybe that's because the entire EP was created in the “Ylang Ylang room” surrounded by “forest mountains, wide ocean [and] dirt roads” as FKJ explained in an Instagram post. FKJ used Instagram to detail the meaning behind each track on Ylang Ylang. In these social media posts, FKJ explains how he and his wife June Marieezy, known musically as ((( O ))), stayed at the secluded "Ylang Ylang room" while expecting the birth of their daughter Ayla. Her birth and unfortunate passing is the inspiration behind 100 Roses. It’s the fifth track on the EP and certainly the most emotional. The brief period of time FKJ and ((( O ))) shared with Ayla is forever encapsulated in this beautifully sad song describing how a physical space was created to say goodbye.
Death is also a sentiment that inspired the EP’s opening song, Earthquake. It begins with simple humming and echoing, drawing the listener into a meditative state. However, the lyrics bring quite the opposite experience. According to a contributor on Genius, the song is "FKJ’s musicalization" of a poem written by Guillaume Héritier, FKJ's former manager, about experiencing the 2016 southern Taiwan earthquake while they were touring Tainan. The song is dedicated to the 117 people that died that day. The intense rumbling exhibited in the last 30 seconds of the song jolt the listener out of the meditative state and into the reality of the track.
Trembling turns into a much more lighthearted sound on Risk, my personal favorite on the album, which features artist Bas. On Risk, the void between vocals is filled with a zero gravity euphoria that leaves listeners floating in space only to be brought back to Earth with Bas’ lyrics that dive into a spoiled relationship he once took a risk on. The second half of the chorus shows Bas’ longing for what used to be: “I can recall when your lips/ Used to contort into smiles/ Bright as the sun that’s drawn an eclipse/ I haven’t seen light in awhile/ Hasn’t been bright in awhile.” The emotional void Bas depicts matches the lyrical void listeners feel between verses, a sort of purgatory with one being more pleasant than the other.
The third track, the titular Ylang Ylang, is about the room in which the project was made. “Staying there for months felt like a sober trip where time flowed differently. One strong night at the piano this melody came through. I played it over and over for hours. Dreamy images came through too,” FKJ shared in an Instagram post. The dreamy images in this song create a post-pandemic “roaring twenties'' feel because of its more modern twist on a ballroom-styled piano melody.
It is hard to cover Ylang Ylang without mentioning FKJ's live studio session on YouTube. As of Feb. 9, the video sits just below 6.5 million views. For anyone who enjoys the EP, this is a must watch.
The caboose of the album, 10 Years Ago, is nostalgic in its melody, lyrics and title. “I’ve been playin the chord progression in this song since I was a teen. It’s 13 chords I never got bored of. I’ve always been obsessed with chord progressions. Anytime I would hear a new one in a song that would make me feel something, I’d play along to learn it. Some progressions I was amazed by and some I didn’t want to deal with but that’s just taste. The one in this song is like a dope group of friends I wanna meet with regularly. I still play it all the time like nothing changed,” FKJ explains in an Instagram post. The track showcases FKJ’s love for and connection with music. The keys are his friends, assisting in creating a sound that is so dreamy that it has the power to teleport listeners into their own childhood bedrooms surrounded by whatever it was they found refuge in, whether baseball cards or stuffed animals.
Ylang Ylang is magical, powerful, emotional, moving, imaginative, incredible and timeless. The EP creates familiarity out of specificity. 100 Roses uses FKJ’s personal pain to create a raw emotion that the listener can apply to their own life. Risk takes Bas’ deflated relationship and allows listeners to think about someone they once took a risk for. Brother is a song for anyone with an older brother, and Ylang Ylang is for anyone looking for peace and tranquility in their surroundings. Every song on this EP has a purpose and leaves listeners feeling fulfilled.