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Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains
E Volo Love Eleanor Griggs , January 31st, 2012 08:30

"There's a fine line between making indie pop that's twee, saccharine and wet-as-a-flannel," say Domino Records, "and making indie pop that's heart-meltingly delicate, enchanting and otherworldly." It's a fair point, one which anyone familiar with the soggier faces and phases of the genre can testify. Even Belle & Sebastian, for all the enchantment they exuded in their heyday, couldn't steer clear of twee forever. It's also what makes Fránçois & the Atlas Mountains so intriguing: the label's first Gallic indie pop signing they may be, but if the rumours are true, they're more ethereal and original than syrupy Amélie-esque kitsch.

The reality, however, is nowhere near as cut and dried as Domino would have you believe. Even the story of Fránçois Marry's ascent to the top is so sugary it leaves a cloying taste in your mouth; a mental image of an 18-year-old Marry seeking out a band to play with by gaily pasting adverts in Bristol's shop windows between his shifts as a teaching assistant sees to that. And then there's the small issue of his back catalogue, released on King Creosote's Fence label; 'I'm So Glad I Met You', taken from 2005's The People to Forget, is so sickeningly twee that it almost seems to right even the worst of indie pop's cutesy wrongs.

But the past is the past, and for his advocates, E Volo Love represents Marry's coming of age. "There's more muscle in what I do now," Marry himself admits, and he's not kidding. Cutting his teeth with indie pop greats such as Camera Obscura and Movietone has finally paid off, and his maturity is nowhere more evident than 'Bail Eternal'. Recorded – like the rest of the album – in a church in Marry's hometown of Saintes, it's a beautifully haunting track which comfortably sets the Atlas Mountains' latest effort apart from its predecessors. Equally, when Marry braids indie pop components with African influences – as he does on the album's opening track, 'Les Plus Beaux' – he does so convincingly, reminding us why we'd be foolish to write Fránçois & the Atlas Mountains off just yet.

Still, there are moments when you realise that old habits die hard. "I'm trying to please you," Marry sings, again and again, in an alarmingly child-like tone on 'Muddy Heart', and delivered against the jangle of the track's piano, it quickly begins to grate. It's at times like these that other aspects of the Atlas Mountains' reveal their mildly irritating side, too. Cute lyrics (take "city kiss / city kiss / kiss me in my bedroom / the curtain is open still" from 'City Kiss' as a prime example) quickly lose their appeal and quaint themes, like Marry's yearning for a swimming pool from his childhood on 'Piscine', seem more of a curse than a quality.

The result is something of a mixed bag: moments of tender and enduring beauty broken up by landfill indie pop with a French accent. Despite the back-and-forth permanency of its palindromic title, E Volo Love fails to cement Marry's reputation as an irreplaceable pillar of the indie community. Yet nor does it completely condemn his ability. Domino Records are right; there is a fine line between churning out indie pop that's twee, saccharine and wet-as-a-flannel and indie pop that's heart-meltingly delicate, enchanting and otherworldly. The problem is, as much as Marry has evolved over the last ten years, Fránçois & the Atlas Mountains are still in no man's land, drifting somewhere between the two.