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Feu! Chatterton
Ici Le Jour (A Tout Enseveli) Jeremy Allen , December 8th, 2015 18:52

You can't fault the ambition. Parisian rock pop group Feu! Chatterton have been threatening an album for a good while since their formation in 2011, and now that they've finally delivered, it's a whole hour of music to listen to and cogitate upon. If you live outside of Paris, then the anticipation might not have been quite as feverish, but in the French capital and throughout the Francosphere the debonair five-piece have been making a name for themselves, especially as a tremendous live concern. Their first EP in September 2014 whetted the appetite, but that made the album no less appreciated when it finally did arrive. Now that it is here, it is vast and at times even cumbersome, but that makes it no less appreciated. You wonder where to start, and the answer to that inquiry is usually at the beginning. From Doorsy opener 'Ophélie' to elongated closer 'Bic Médium', Ici Le Jour (A Tout Enseveli) [or 'here's the day (everything's buried)'] is an album that takes the trad and mutates it into something far more enigmatic and boldly dynamic the more it unfolds.   

To put the length of the record into perspective, Iron Maiden, a band known for their hardline prog-ish fantasy episodics, released an album of similar abundance this year (The Book Of Souls), and concluding track 'Empire Of The Clouds' at nearly 18 minutes, is only four minutes longer than 'Bic Médium', the closing track here. That all said, it has taken the Irons a whole career to release an album of such epic breadth. The double album is often a sign of a loss of perspective, that yes people that surround a group keep saying yes when they should be saying no, but in this case it is a mission statement, a bold declaration of intent. Thankfully neither of the records mentioned suffer from cavalier self-indulgence; instead they are works that demand commitment from their audiences, and tenacity will reap rewards. Similarities end there of course.

That name - the Chatterton part I mean - is taken from the romantic and nondurable English poet Thomas Chatterton, who has been the inspiration for many a fatalistic musician over the years, from Serge Gainsbourg and Alain Bashung to Suede (the cover of Dog Man Star is suspiciously not unlike Pre-Raphaelite Henry Wallace's The Death of Chatterton) and The Libertines of course; and pretty much any other aspiring poet maudit with a death fixation and a penchant for 18th century tailoring. In their biog, the band also lists Balzac, Baudelaire, Bolaño and Ask The Dust author John Fante as influences. So far, so bookish. The "Feu!" in case you weren't aware, is French for 'fire!', which they certainly have plenty of.

Musically Feu! Chatterton manage to blend the old chanson variété with something far more ambient and unsettling. Often dreamlike and labyrinthian, they somehow sound like the Soft Machine one minute and the Orb the next. The smash and grab finagling and philandering across the decades also takes in everything from Maison Barclay forefather and stablemate Jacques Brel, to elements of cerebral hip hop elsewhere. In many ways they are the perfect conflation of Barclay old and new, from the likes of Aznavour of old to DJ Shadow and Benjamin Clementine latterly. There is something darkly sexual about songs like 'Fou A Lier' or 'Harlem' too, which like, say, labelmate Sebastien Tellier, has a rebellious edge to it (Barclay, it should be noted, famously signed the Sex Pistols before Richard Branson did).

As for the more contemporary spoken word, often delivered with a panache from moustachioed singer Arthur Teboul, it transpires he was a slam poet before he was a singer, and his scattershot flow often manifests in such a way that it leaves you in no doubt he is a connoisseur of the French language. Where so many French artists eschew their own tongue for the pop lingua franca anglais (in fear of being dwarfed within the long shadows of the Gainsbourgs and the Brassens and the Ferrés…) Feu! Chatterton are never afraid to luxuriate in loquacity. On the intrepid 'Boeing' for instance, they sing of sultry jungles, cloudy chimeras and ghosts populating the cities, all in one verse ("Jungle embuée d'azur / aux arbres pour passer l'ennui / Tant de tête tes nuées eurent chimères ! / Ces fantomes peuplent ta cité"). What it all means exactly will probably resonate more with native speakers or students of l'Institut Britannique, though without the insider info, it still sounds beautiful and verdant, a riot of evocative imagery that's arresting whether you can decipher the meaning immediately or not.

It's on the second disc where things get really interesting, from the dance-laden spoken word of 'Harlem' to the crypto-krautrock influence underpinning the magnificent 'La Malinche'. Things certainly become more expansive as they progress, and that's where the real magic happens. 'Porte Z' splutters and beeps with majestic synth sounds as it cruises to the outro, while 'Les Camélias' floats on a cloud of ambient delightfulness with a guitar solo that's restrained enough not to venture into le monde du fromage. It's really those moments where they consolidate the old with the new that they strike on a special kind of alchemy. Perhaps the only disappointment is the fourteen minute 'Bic Médium', which while wholly enjoyable enough, never really seems to get going. But like I say, you certainly can't fault the ambition.