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Les Harry's
GGOTS Richard Foster , August 9th, 2016 09:07

Every now and then you get into a record that has the ability to stop time in its tracks; one that is informed by another form of intelligence which demands your full attention. GGOTS is onesuch. This is probably because, in this record’s case, the artists - Sam, David, Alexandre, Nicolas, Quentin and Jérôme - are all autistic out patients from the l’Hôpital du Jour d’Anthony, in a suburb of Paris. As such they can’t really be “expected” to use or present time, music or sonic space in the same way a conventional recording artist does. And it’s an issue that - quite rightly - shapes and enhances the music, your listening experience, and sometimes guides this review.

Let’s not beat about the bush. I can understand if you feel wary about listening to GGOTS, or maybe feel uncomfortable about the thought that this record was even made. Is this a form of voyeurism? Thrill-seeking, or credential-buffing at the expense of people who are severely autistic? It has crossed my mind more than once. But then, maybe the opposite hypothesis is also true. To castigate ourselves about the idea of buying into the Les Harry’s concept may also allow us to bask in a glow a self-righteousness based round consciously not listening. I can’t judge for you. What I can say is that - having seen them play, practise and hang out at the venue I work at (WORM, in Rotterdam) - I’d take the chance and listen in. It seemed to me when I got to know them that the lads loved being Les Harry’s, and getting the chance to make and play and sell their music. I can also state that I find this music remarkable; brilliant in places. Whether that is by chance or not is (for me) ultimately irrelevant..

On a purely musical level GGOTS gives in spades. When I wrote earlier that the band can’t present music in the same way as conventional artists, it doesn’t mean that things are completely unstructured. The special properties this LP has are down, in the main, to a very special collaboration between the Lille-based organisation Sonic Protest and the day care centre and, I think, some careful guiding by a number of professional musicians. The band must have been at the least partially coached through the recording sessions, encouraged at opportune moments to let loose. What really comes across is the total absorption in the moment and a total enjoyment in making music. Just check out the spaced beauty of ‘Noël Chez Mamie Alfreda’, a track held together by string and attitude.

The (French) lyrics are expressively, and often seductively chanted. I was told (when I saw Les Harry’s live) that sometimes they are extremely funny; though you’ll have to work that out yourselves as I can’t translate to give you a taste. One vocal-driven track is pretty obvious though and sets the tone from the off: ‘C’est le voix’. “C’est le voix, c’est le voix…” Even my limited French can deal with this. “It’s the voice, the voice…” It’s a crie de coer that drives the second track on the album. For Les Harry’s music really is the voice, their voice. Vocals are Les Harry’s weapon of choice and they rule over this LP with a rod of iron. Take ‘Fantaculaire’ which has this mental D.A.F.-like, stripped down intensity to it. You can hear David, Sammy and the rest getting lost in the patterns their voices make, they almost seem in another world by the end.

Like Tago Mago and The Faust Tapes, this LP must have been edited with a great deal of thought and daring. There are plenty of examples to pick; but the build up from the sweaty intensity of ‘Fantaculaire’, through David’s brief little ‘Jingle 1’, to the bludgeoning handed out by the (live) Faust-like strum of ‘L’hymne Anglaise’ is particularly fabulous. Talking of all things Can, ‘Goya’ and the closer, ‘Vasco’ (both intoned by Sam) are total deconstructions of ‘Augmn’, somehow more spacey and space age and far more glam than the Köln jokers’ take on inner space travel. Sam floats off into the stratosphere, using the pleasure of his voice alone. It’s a beautiful moment.

The record’s mood is carefully portioned out. For this is a long listen; and if you’ve got the CD version, there are 31 tracks to take on board. But we are skillfully guided through the whole. Take, for example, the drop in pace and temperature - which somehow also highlights of the total lack of artifice - on the long, doleful ‘Republique Dominicaine’; an odyssey described by Jérôme, accompanied by his harmonica. It’s a bold choice to stick this track in at this point, just as the listener is drawing up their own mind map about the album, cleaning heads and minds for what’s to come.

In fact I think it’s a great achievement to make a record that the listener wants to stick on again and again. After a while it becomes an increasingly luxurious and satisfying pleasure to give it another spin, discovering new angles and insights. In that respect it’s like sifting through an old tin of buttons. Sometimes your attention is taken by a new shiny thing; a particular sound, or phrase that you missed previously. Each musical element needs inspecting afresh.

Repeated plays also mean you start to drop your own guard in the most delightful way. It’s no longer just a great rock record. It’s also great to start to recognise the lads’ personalities after a few listens. You can point to Jérôme’s steadiness, Nicolas’s calmness, Alexandre’s eloquence, or David’s engaging nature and inherent showmanship. The there’s Quentin, whose intense and funny warbles and expostulations are there for all to hear on tracks like ‘Malabar Princess’ and the fabulously named - and utterly crazed - rock out, ‘Les Rois du Rock’. In ‘Daktari’, he starts every remark with “oh la la”, and starts laughing. It’s so great to listen to. For his part Sam seems like a funny, inquisitive lad who likes nothing better than using his lungs to full effect.

Despite any misgivings about the nature of the project (maybe initially projected by me onto the record, and certainly before I saw Les Harry’s play and “hung out” [sic] with them) GGOTS is now possibly my most played LP of this last year. I can’t begin tell you just how much pleasure and satisfaction I’ve got through listening it. And it’s possibly the most refreshing and giving piece of music I’ve heard in ages. Mainly because Les Harry’s take the listener to uncharted sonic spaces, and allow us to open up, and explore our own emotions and thought patterns along the way.