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La Femme
Psycho Tropical Berlin Jean Marcel Maillard , June 24th, 2013 08:29

"Cherchez la femme" - Look for the woman. We French mean that behind any Bel Ami, there is always a woman, pulling the strings from the wings. Now look for La Femme - the French band. A woman is always somewhat mysterious, which seems to be the reason why the band chose this name. And indeed, La Femme are clad in a corset of vintage sounds.

"Cherchez le garçon" ("Look for the boy") Daniel Darc, the former leader of the French new wave band Taxi Girl, might have answered. It's actually two boys, Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée, who are the masterminds behind La Femme, and who bring him, with a few others, back from the dead in Psycho Tropical Berlin. These two longtime friends from Biarritz, a city in South-Western France renowned for its waves, composed everything here from pockets full of musical influences. Psycho Tropical Berlin, their debut LP, is a mix of surf revival, updated cold wave (in a similar vein to countryman Lescop), 1960s yéyé and psychedelia.

"Psycho Tropical Berlin": is apparently also their self-penned genre (they have also said "strange wave, new Motown, witch wave, silly mental wave"... whatever). Each term makes for a pillar to describe their music. "Psycho" could stand for the general sense of existential angst and madness pervading the songs. Take 'Antitaxi' for instance, all psychotic yet grotesque surf rock, not unlike B-52's 'Rock Lobster', and an absurd rant against cabs: "Prends le Bus!" ("Take the bus!") chants the chorus ("Taxis, far too costly, Taxis, far too dangerous").

There's quite a different atmosphere with 'Amour Dans Le Motu' - look here for the (psychedelic) "tropical" side of La Femme. Love in a tiny isolated place (a motu being, apparently, a Pacific reef coral islet), yet the song with its frenetic percussion and scary Amazonian bird sounds actually evokes a dark jungle, crammed with secrets, while a runaway flute alludes to a great escape.

As for "Berlin", it recalls the romanticism of the Cold War city and the German spirit of experimentation. 'From Tchernobyl With Love', is probably the most obviously cold wave-indebted song in the album. The melancholy and strangeness quite deftly transcribe radio-activity. It suggests April 1986: the "catastrophe", an artificial male voice reads the letter to his family back home, the family that he will probably never see again.

In other words, Psycho Tropical Berlin may be deemed as a journey through time and space. 'Si un Jour' recalls the "yéyé" years of the 1960s, when the French youth adopted American rock & roll). Marilu Chollet's child-like voice is reminiscent of France Gal, and atop a synth she sings about female emancipation via acting like a boy. In the same vein, the dynamic 'Welcome America', recalls those times (the golden years), when miserable post-war Europe cherished hopes of leaving for this eldorado.

If there is a narrative to find out of this collection of reveries, it's the mystery of the woman: omnipresent, multifaceted, embodied by five lovely female voices. In the eerie 'La Femme', Clara Luciani's ghostly voice suggests the woman is a femme fatale, a vampire-like Salomé that will lead the hero to his fall, while in 'La Femme Ressort', a hypnotic and lingering piano melody, Clémence Quelennec, introduces herself as "the spiral", a jack in a Pandora's box.

By contrast, there's the very catchy yet cynical pop song 'Nous Etions Deux', and 'It's Time To Wake Up (2023)', a sweet ballad in a dystopian near-future world where most died and others are enslaved, and where a couple is trying to survive together for just one more day.

So much for La Femme's mystery. John Lennon once said: "French rock & roll is like English wine". Considering the success of this debut LP, we have to suppose that there is good English wine somewhere...