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April March & Aquaserge
April March & Aquaserge Tom Hughes , June 11th, 2013 16:26

April March, aka American songwriter Elinor Blake, is most widely known from the closing credits to Quentin Tarantino's 2007 slasher-disappointment Death Proof. A Tarantino soundtrack is an impressive claim to fame for any artist, and that featured track – an English translation of Serge Gainsbourg's 'Laisse Tomber Les Filles' – is a promising introduction to her latest release. Things become more intriguing after a glance at the other contributors on the debut cooperative album, with the Aquaserge part of the moniker consisting of Tame Impala drummer Julien Barbagallo, Stereolab member Julien Gasc and recent Melody's Echo Chamber collaborator Benjamin Gilbert. It's an enticing combination of musicians. 

Unfortunately, the meeting is not a fruitful one, and the record instead scrabbles around from one touchstone to another. On one side of the Transatlantic combination there's album closer 'How Was Your Day'. Striving for Brian Wilson-esque piano balladry, it is spoiled by irritating similarities The Carpenters' 'Close To You'. Elsewhere there are moments like Stereolab b-sides or Melody's Echo Chamber outtakes, but by and large April March & Aquaserge prefer dollops of overbearing yé-yé pop. And they like it distributed thickly, stickily, and all over everything. 

The band attempt to condense Serge Gainsbourg's career into digestible vignettes; from vaguely echoing Histoire de Melody Nelson on 'Des Tics et Des Tocs' - only without any of the bite or raw guitar work - to reproducing the gentle pop of his Vu De L'exterieur album on 'Sybarite'. We should just be thankful they didn't look to his Aux Armes Et Cætera dub poetry/reggae LP. 

Largely, the record comes across like an energetic twee assault - if that isn't a paradox. Everything is overloaded. Meandering bass lines, rolling organs, chugging acoustic guitar, percussion laden with tambourines and drum fills, not to mention the constant, never-ending backing vocals which shift and change as they desperately try to find a hook. Intros characteristically raise expectations before evaporating into airy French vocals and a muddy multi-instrumental mess, such as the hopeful few seconds of album opener 'Black Bars' which are reminiscent of Tigermilk-era Belle & Sebastian.

There's a prevalent sense that if the group let the songs breathe more often then things would turn out better. While the welcome restraint on 'Red Life' is undone because it melodically feels like the backing to a dinner party where the guests had all smoked weed after fondue and fallen asleep, 'Spirals' is a highpoint of the album. It doesn't completely cast off the yé-yé shackles, particularly at the chorus, but the verses are free to waft around in a relatively sparse dream-pop bubble that's more akin to Melody's Echo Chamber than a Gainsbourg homage. In fact, the middle of the album generally explores a wider mix of sounds. There's the dark and dissonant end to 'Ready Aim Love', the fuzzy guitars interrupted by brass on 'Pourquoi Parce Que' and, on 'Sparklers', the soundtrack to a Normandy-based Spaghetti Western.

Regrettably, aside from those few fleeting moments there's a niggling sense of style over substance throughout the record. As if April March and Aquaserge simply prioritised a superficial tribute to two cultures and a time period to the detriment of anything more substantial.