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Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul
Ex-Futur Album [The Unfinished Avant-Pop Album/1980-1983] Aug Stone , January 13th, 2015 12:07

Heralded as the next album by Belgian avant-rock combo Aksak Maboul in 1981, this collaboration with The Honeymoon Killers' Véronique Vincent was never completed. The project was 'dropped' at some point but listening now to these fine pop songs written by Vincent and Crammed Discs/Aksak Maboul's founder Marc Hollander, one can't help but wonder why. The liner notes ask 'too pop to be experimental? too quirky for '80s pop?…they probably make a lot more sense now than they did then'. But as reissues of lost classics have become the norm, and these recordings being so close to completion, we definitely could have had both. Alas, it does no good to conjecture when they're here now. Thirty plus years later, these compositions are finally seeing the light of day. Put together from demos and rough mixes recorded at home or Pyramide Studio in Brussels as well as in London and a chalet in the Swiss Alps, the Ex-Futur Album offers a good look, not at what could've been, but at what was and was so close to blossoming into itself.

Opener 'Chez Les Aborigènes' sets the tone for the collection – Vincent's breathy voice, pretty melodies that don't always go where you think, lovely changes (think if Stereolab were an 80s chart band), and segueing into a Middle Eastern groove for the outro. 'Afflux De Luxe' is a floating pop dream, reminiscent of Saint Etienne's filmic interludes if they were given a full-on pop makeover. Which brings us to the gorgeous 'Je Pleure Tout Les Temps', a single that should have been. The sound of wandering alone through busy twilight streets, catching moments of transcendence at the chorus. An English version, 'I'm Always Crying', comes a few tracks later. A quite different mix, more back alleys and fire escapes but nonetheless a beautiful melodic chorus. And when Vincent delivers the line 'I'm systematically crying', her choice of rhythm breaks the word up into 'systema–tically', emphasising the 'tickle' at odds with the tears.

'Veronika Winken' starts off dark, intending to frighten, as Vincent growls and sharply enunciates the lyrics. Strange pronounced vocal noises carry us through as the music grows poppier, finally culminating in a jubilant 80s calypso update of Yé-Yé. 'My Kind Of Doll', the only song on the record not co-written with Hollander, also sees this kind of stylistic shift from detached minor key verse to sweet major chorus. 'Doll' wrestles with the egocentric desire and expectations of childishly adult playthings. 'Réveillons-Nous' and 'Le Troisième Personnage' feature the kind of blippy synths that fans of 80s pop are bound to love, the former flowing into more island rhythms.

All in all these don't quite add up to an album's worth of material and the rest of the CD is rounded out by remixes, variations, dub and live versions. The download comes with an additional three bonus tracks. Including an intense take on 'Veronika Winken', full of more groans, rolled r's, and other mouth sounds, recorded by an unknown fan at "the only Aksak Maboul/Véronique Vincent mini-show at The Kitchen (NYC) as part of the Strange Mutations Festival" in 1986. Funnily enough, the original catalogue number for this was to be cram 014, and 'Chez Les Aborigènes' contains the line - itself a reference to a Charles Aznavour song - "I won't be wearing for 30 years the old, threadbare blue suit". But of course these recordings are new to all but the handful who worked on them first time around; the threads taken up again, revitalised and brought to light to delight. And that suits just fine.