Yannick Ilunga, a 24-year-old from Cape Town, grew up singing in church, played in a metalcore band where he sounded like this, and then discovered Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak. Now, as Petite Noir, he sings in a deep, sonorous voice and plays an itchy, gently polyrhythmic mix of music that he has cannily packaged in interviews as “noir-wave,” meaning a mix of new wave and South African influences. The parts are present—the clipped, piping guitars are reminiscent of the West African genre highlife while also reminding ’80s rock fans of post-punk bands like Joy Division—but Ilunga’s music doesn’t feel like hybrid music. It feels seamless, subtle and lithe and luminously sexy, and it probably took his entire childhood of musical wandering to arrive at something so slick and assured. The vocals are the immediate standout, as they were when Petite Noir first surfaced way back in 2012, with “Till We Ghosts”. Ilunga has been slowly adding songs to his name since then, each one a striking addition to a slender catalog, and most of those songs are rounded up on this five-song EP, called The King of Anxiety. On the strength of this slight batch of material, Ilunga was signed to Domino, and he is going to be recording a full-length for them this year. In the meantime, Solange Knowles and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) have noticed him. His career has been a slow, graceful build, like his music. “Come Inside” builds from a modal guitar figure that Ilunga sings over directly. The song’s call-and-response structure and the spine-slipping thump of its bass drums ground it loosely in blues-based traditions, but Ilunga keeps the music’s borders vague and blurry, adding in some warped synths and post-punk guitar leads. His voice, rich and soothing, buffs the surface and keeps the emotional temperature at a low bubble. No matter how many parts are moving inside of his songs, The King of Anxiety always feels calm and serene.  Ilunga’s words are simple—”Only you can make me the pain,” “When I fall, you welcome me inside”—and the songs have a lucid-dream quality, a sense that nothing inside of them can truly go wrong. “I don’t know, but you’re taking me for a fool, boy,” he sings on “Chess”, a lovestruck song that he delivers in his surprisingly hefty falsetto. The song details some sort of  heartbreak or betrayal, but it feels purposefully soft-focus and enigmatic, right down to the gender pronouns, which never quite settle. It’s an enigmatic scene, focusing on the redemptive quality of heartache more than the pain—when someone’s hurt us, we’re often more sure of who we are than before, and this is the energy “Chess” dials into. It’s the most textured, detailed and ambitious of the EP’s five compositions, shot through with a tremulous, almost chaste feeling, a soft sexiness that recalls Bloc Party singles like “So Here We Are” or “I Still Remember”. The Bloc Party resemblance underlines a point: There is nothing technically very “new” sounding in Ilunga’s blends, which wouldn’t shock or confuse anyone who has heard a TV on the Radio song. But they are instantly appealing and starry-eyed and romantic, and they will make tremendously powerful network-TV drama music. He has a nice grasp on how song structure and arrangement can shift the mood imperceptibly, and minute musical changes—the shift from drum programming into complicated live drumming in the last minute of “Chess”, to take one example—alter the fabric of the music in significant ways. He seems to be working very carefully and slowly, but the result is hard to argue with: These songs feel obvious the first time you hear them and then slowly grow more sophisticated over time.

By Jayson Greene, Pitchfork.com