Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo has always been a study in contrasts. On this spring afternoon in Brooklyn, singer Dave Macklovitch, who’s lanky, talkative and half Jewish, is wearing a snug, asymmetrical T-shirt and thick black glasses with a silver stud in his left ear. Producer Patrick Gemayel, or P-Thugg, who’s Lebanese, laconic and stout, is donning a white beanie and black Megadeth T-shirt. At Macklovitch’s posh South Williamsburg condo, just as striking as the two-tone animal-skin rug and elegant glass side table, topped with a weighty anthology of 20th-century French furniture, is the dyspeptic warbling of Atlanta rapper-singer Future, whose new album “Honest” plays on a loop on a skinny MacBook. On a bookshelf by the door are Proust and “White Women,” the Helmut Lang photo anthology that served as a namesake for the forthcoming Chromeo album, due May 12 from Atlantic/Big Beat.
“You can kind of flip the semantics and the semiotics of it in different ways,” says Macklovitch, 36, of the title of the album, the band’s fourth, and first in four years. “We thought it was shocking and funny coming from ambiguously ethnic guys like us, but at the same time it was fecund creatively.”
That tendency toward cultural mischief – and the use of words like “fecund” – is par for the course for Chromeo, which in the past 10 years has been indie-pop’s postmodern odd couple, making song-based electronic music long before EDM and Daft Punk had become the new normal. On breakout singles like “Needy Girl,” from the duo’s 2004 debut “She’s in Control,” and “Bonafied Lovin’,” from 2007 follow-up “Fancy Footwork,” the pair proved adept at recontextualizing the sounds of early-’80s disco-funk giants (Zapp & Roger, Kool & The Gang, Rick James) in tracks that playfully and ironically subverted the genre’s typical machismo.
“Jealous (I Ain’t With it),” the lead single from “White Women,” is a love song about being insecure, written from the perspective of what Macklovitch – who’s also older brother to DJ A-Trak, co-owner of influential indie Fool’s Gold Records and one half of house duo Duck Sauce – characterizes as “a castrated, overgrown child posturing as a male.”
“We like to talk about emotions that people never glorify in pop music but that everyone can relate to,” adds Macklovitch as he hastily digs into a whole wheat veggie wrap.
Gemayel, 37, puts it more succinctly: “We’re not alpha males.”
For “White Women,” the pair left no synth unturned, ratcheting up production values and pushing each song to its ultimate Quincy Jones conclusion, with help from talented collaborators like Solange and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. After touring behind 2010 LP “Business Casual,” Macklovitch and Gemayel finally quit their day jobs – as a Barnard French professor and an accountant, respectively – and immersed themselves in the new project full time for a year-and-a-half.
The result is a fuller, more polished and ambitious sound that threatens to finally impel the band from pop’s quirky edges to its center – and, with Pharrell and others bringing disco sounds to the charts, at just the right time. At Coachella in April, Chromeo brought its flamboyant live show to the main stage for the first time, playing just before festival favorite Girl Talk and a reunited Outkast. Next up is a summer tour that includes gigs at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury.
“When we started there was no scene for what we were doing. It took us three years before we could actually play in front of a favorable audience,” recalls Macklovitch. “But now, thanks to people like Daft Punk and Bruno Mars, it has come around. There’s a lot more funk being accepted in the mainstream.”