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Blood On The Tracks: A Rockfort Column For September
John Doran , September 30th, 2016 10:51

David McKenna gets physical with a clutch of recent French releases on Egyptian label Nashazphone, as well as new albums from La Femme, Vaudou Game and Electric Electric. Plus there’s a brand new mix

Èlg - Mauve Zone (Nashazphone)
Costes - Pas Encore Mort (Nashazphone)
5599 - Heureusement Que Le Sang Seche Vite (Nashazphone)

Last time I wrote about Èlg for tQ, I decided that he was extremely "in touch with disease, discharge, pus, sweat [and] excrement", so it’s both reassuring and gratifying to find the ‘Side A’ of his latest album Mauve Zone revving up with an expulsive chorus of wheezy coughs, lascivious whimpering and heavy breathing, what may or may not be stomach gurgles (they sounds gastric anyway) and a tremendous, upward-arcing belch. Welcome back!

Speaking in 2013, Laurent Gérard announced that he was entering "hibernation". There have been other projects, notably the Opéra Mort duo with Jo Tanz, but Mauve Zone is something he says he has spent "irregularly three years working on." He also describes it as "a whole sonic trip in French, English and imaginary language." ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ are fever-dream tunnels, psychosexual wormholes. The ‘mauve zone’ sounds both fleshly and phantasmagorical.

As ever, language and voice are inseparable, a textual/textural stream of glimpsed meanings, intonation and timbre - just check out the great, and hilarious, ‘Sick Awesome Rad Dude’ from the Pièces Détachées release below.

Aside from his own up-and-down pitched and effected vocals, striking voices on the album include Catherine Hershey, whose fluted tones are usually at the service of more bittersweet emotions, becomes sinister-sweet, a glistening, dead-eyed siren jacked into a PA system for hailing lost souls… "There’s no sugar at the end, no medal at the finish line. There is no finish line. Those that want to come with me are welcome, mmm… it’s an infinite joy, it’s a giant pain." There’s also something about a "squad of pink-nosed bunnies kissing your tummy" and elsewhere, a Scotsman gives an eff-filled account of a dream involving Princess Diana stealing booze from a supermarket.

Stripped of all this, both tracks - of around 18 minutes in length each - would still be stimulating, superior patchworks of drones, field recordings, distorted guitar, piano and shimmering synth, but it’s the relentless and inventive babble that gives them their luminous, monstrous life.

Mauve Zone comes courtesy of Egyptian label Nashazphone, which also put out the debut LP by EEK featuring Islam Chipsy and, over the summer, a terrific French selection that includes not only Èlg but also a reissue of the 1997 release Pas Encore Mort by Jean-Louis Costes (who they describe as "possibly France’s most transgressive and independent artist") and a new one from improv/noise duo 5599.

Pas Encore Mort is a mere drop in the ocean of blood that constitutes Costes’ 70-odd releases, a body of work that seethes and writhes in the throes of myriad agonies, agonies writ large and with a force that seems intent on leaving physical marks on the listener. ‘Frankie Teardrop’ levels of intensity are common, a kind of purging and even sanctitude through suffering. There’s also no shortage of scatological content, blood and other bodily fluids either but unlike with Èlg, who is more insidious and insinuating, here everything is ramped up to a pitch of Artaudian outrage.

Costes has been putting out material, initially on cassette, since 1985. Éric Deshayes and Dominique Grimaud’s indispensable (to me anyway!) ‘L’Underground Musical En France’ recounts tales that include deliberately scratching all 500 copies of his first official release, 1987’s Secouez! Crevez!, hi-trash, hi-violence US shows with wife Lisa Crystal Carver aka Lisa Suckdog, frequent trials and albums with family-friendly titles like Love Songs And Masturbations and Je M’Encule. Pas Encore Mort goes big on the strain of tortured romanticism that runs through his work, a great cry of separation, (self-)punishment and perseverance – ‘Pas Encore Mort’ = ‘Not Dead Yet’.

5599 also have blood on their minds; the title of their album translates as ‘Fortunately blood dries quickly’ – a stoic flipside to Costes’ impotent howls but still with, I’m sure you’ll agree, a sinister edge. Just how much blood are we talking about? Jean-Marc Foussat, on EMS Synthi AKS, is a veteran who has sparred with Bill Laswell and Jac Berrocal, and his 1983 Abattage is a highly regarded slice of (literally) open-window improv.

He’s teamed up with the frighteningly young (here’s a recent French TV report dedicated to him, aged all of 16) Reims-born Augustin Brousseloux on guitar and alto sax for a three-track excursion that sounds like a combo of live-wire interaction and judicious editing. There’s a great sense of audio perspective too – for part of side-long opener ‘Le Bruit Des Tempêtes’, Brousseloux’s delayed guitar, and Foussat’s pinging and buzzing, are accompanied some way in the background by hammering and drilling workers. One likes to think this was all captured at the same moment. As for Brousseloux, his range is already considerable so who knows what he’ll be capable of? 5599 refers to Foussat and Brousseloux’s respective dates of birth by the way.

Electric Electric - III

It would be remiss to pretend that EE had absolutely nothing in common with Battles, but they’ve still been one of the most promising exponents of geometrical electro-rock in France over the last few years, alone and as members of the thrilling (La Colonie des Vacances along with Papier Tigre, Pneu and Marvin. What they needed was a recording to match their bracing (and severe chicken neck-inducing) (live performances, and that’s pretty much what we have here. Opener ‘Obs 7’ was described to me by a passing colleague as sounding like a malfunctioning New York elevator. The description was intended disparagingly but actually does some kind of justice to the cheek-flappingly intense upward motion of the track’s latter stages. If III doesn’t quite retain the momentum of ‘Obs 7’ and the demented gamelan workout of ‘Pointe Noire’ throughout it’s only because those two make for such a knockout start.

La Femme - Mystère
(Disque Pointu)

‘Sphynx’ and ‘Où Va Le Monde’, the first two tracks released in advance of Mystère, are in some ways the most atypical, both of the album and La Femme generally – the first suggesting they’d capitulated entirely to their synth-pop leanings, the second a kind of careworn shrug at the state of the things that also sounds closer to acts La Femme have inspired (or at least legitimised), like Juniore. What Mystère represents mostly is a picking apart of Psycho Tropical Berlin’s neater designs, no more so than on the 18 minutes of closer ‘Vagues’, which is like a comic strip turned into a vast mural. Some things haven’t changed – there’s still a lot of spaghetti & surf and guitars frequently go "tink… tink". ‘Tatiana’ is ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ with an extra layer of fizz, for ‘Septembre’ they’re in their Velvets-via-Stereolab mode and so on. Pleasingly though, even the most apparently straightforward songs turn out to have strange and faintly exotic fluff tucked caught in their seams or tucked in their pockets. This extra scruffiness and unpredictability (even if it’s by design) is perhaps one reason why, at its best, Mystère feels more like a travelling fair than a theme park.

Vaudou Game - Kidayú
(Hot Casa)

The Togo-Lyon funk connection. This is the second album from hugely charismatic leader, singer and guitarist Peter Solo and his band, and takes as little time to pause for breath as its predecessor Apiafo, even though there’s still space for one soulful ballad à la ‘Ata Calling’ (‘Lonlon’). Solo’s melodies (as well as his beautiful masks) are apparently inspired by vaudou chants, but equally there’s plenty of familiar JBs-inspiration, and all you could possibly hope for in terms of acid-tinged organs, wah-squall and dynamic horn runs, balled up tightly but breathing deeply. If ‘Natural Vaudou’ and ‘La Vie C’est Bon’ are entirely as expected – and undeniable with it – Solo and co change things up with the six-and-a-half minutes of ‘On Se Pousse’s’ swaying groove and plaintive lines, and the Ethio-funk-goes-post-punk of ‘Don’t Go’.

Rockfort Quietus Mix 4 – September 2016 Tracklist

Electric Electric – ‘Pointe Noire’ (Murailles Music)
Bernard Fevre – ‘Out Of Dark’ (Alter K/Lo Recordings)
Robonom – ‘Bloom Filter’ (Hylé Tapes)
Oko Ebombo – ‘Niggality’ (Self-released)
Saåad – ‘Eternal Grow’ (In Paradisum)
Aquaserge – ‘Les Oiseaux’ (Crammed Discs)
La Femme – ‘Le Chemin’ (Disque Pointu)
Bon Voyage Organisation – ‘Géographie’ (Columbia)
Vaudou Game – ‘Don’t Go’ (Hot Casa)
Costes – ‘Mourons Ensemble’ (Nashazasphone)
Omertà – ‘À L’Intérieur’ (La Souterraine/Mostla)
5599 – ‘L’Armoire Est Ouverte Dans L’Escalier’ Excerpt (Nashazasphone)
Kotz Struder –‘The One, The Other’(Wild Silence)