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Rockfort: French Music For January With David McKenna
David McKenna , January 30th, 2017 11:54

David McKenna is back with reviews of Aquaserge, Ta-Ha, Le Vasco and more in his first Rockfort column of 2017

Aquaserge - Laisse Ça Être
(Almost Musique/Crammed)

The death last year of a very musically significant French Pierre – Pierre Boulez – was remarked upon to a greater or lesser extent in the UK. Sadly the passing of Pierre Barouh, on December 28, went largely unnoticed yet he was just as foundational (Pierre/Peter is derived from the Greek for ‘rock’, St Peter the original pierre fondatrice) in his own way.

His writing partnership with Francis Lai on the unforgettable soundtrack to Claude Lelouch’s Un Homme Et Une Femme led directly to the creation of the Saravah label and publisher, home to Brigitte Fontaine and Areski, Jacques Higelin, jazz artists like Steve Lacy and Barney Wilen, a number of contemporary composers and progressive rock group Catharsis. He was known particularly as champion of Brazilian music but through Saravah, and working with artists including Gabon’s Pierre Akendengué, was more generally a pioneer of what wasn’t yet called World music. In Saravah, you have not only a template for a later generation of French indie labels, but also a model for stylistic and cultural collusion.

Laisse Ça Être - a direct French translation of ‘Let It Be’ - feels imbued with the spirit of Saravah (as for that matter is their French label Almost Musique and the La Souterraine project it is intimately linked to. The band’s Belgian/international label Crammed is no stranger to unexpectedly fruitful intercultural dialogue either). To acknowledge this is in no way to undermine Aquaserge’s excellence and uniqueness - quite the opposite. It’s a testimony to their audacity and range, developing as they have a vocabulary that’s capable of touching on all of the above.

It would be hard to accuse Aquaserge’s members of adhering to Saravah’s dictum ‘Il y a des années où l’on a envie de rien faire’ (‘there are years when you don’t want to do anything’) however. Of the band’s core members, Audrey Ginestet and Benjamin Glibert were members of Acid Mothers Temple collaborators UEH, Julien Gasc had a stint playing keyboards with Stereolab and has recently released a second solo album, as has Julien Barbagallo, who drums for Tame Impala. Still, 2014’s A L’Amitié seemed to mark a shift, not just musically but in terms of how seriously Aquaserge took themselves as a unit.

It was a pretty serious album too, proggy and gothically imposing in places. Laisse Ça Être’s opener, ‘Tour Du Monde’, is its unexpected counterpoint – rhythmically buoyant, lit up by blasts of brass and Manon Glibert’s clarinet, and further enlivened by whoops and games of vocal tag, with individual syllables shared out between different singers (a device which recurs on the album). It’s the cue for an album that’s miraculously uncluttered and fleet of foot, but which still finds room for exquisitely melancholy progressions, sudden left-turns and pataphysical humour.

Le Vasco - La Transe Des Oiseaux

This, Le Vasco’s first proper album, has been a while coming. Before the three tracks on last year’s We’re Not Natural Anymore EP, all of which feature on La Transe Des Oiseaux, their last release had been 2013’s Passion Things mixtape. But whatever circuitous route they’ve taken to arrive at this point - including signing to a new label, Nowadays - it’s been worth it. A tight-as-a-drum ten tracker, La Transe Des Oiseaux it’s a perfect debut in that it brings the embryonic ideas explored on the early releases to fruition while also demonstrating some next level moves.

It also comes wrapped in ‘post internet’ conceptual packaging that, as I mentioned in the review of the EP last year, flows out of vaporwave and the influence of Oneohtrix. Actually it’s more than packaging – the video for ‘Les Oiseaux Sont Là, Ils Attendent’ goes full-tilt with its airless virtual/cute/gross imagery and is littered with emojis, but Le Vasco’s real achievement is in pulling these new structures of feeling - take “I can tell the world I’m a boy just to know how it feels/It doesn’t change anything at all/any king or any queen/so long as I dominate” (‘Easy Online’) or “who is looking at me?” (‘20 Angels’) - into the substance of their songs. There isn’t a trace of ironic celebration, parody, or sly critique; part of the reason they connect is that they work at the level of lived experience, while simultaneously trying to figure out what on earth ‘lived experience’ means in the present context. And they’re accessible in a ‘pop’ way, with singer and lyricist Louise Calzada as our intermediary and point of identification as her desires are thwarted, magnified (“something that cannot be burnt, something outside of planet earth”) or diverted through virtual wormholes.

The other thing to know is that La Transe Des Oiseaux is just delicious. I feel Le Vasco’s songs, with their moments of musical and lyrical disjuncture and of glorious flow, follow a particular expressive logic, but you could dismiss all that and still get wrapped up in the slow-burn of ‘Easy Online’ or ‘Razorblade’ (a global hit in my own private parallel pop universe) the glistening turbo R&B of ’20 Angels’, the million and one hooks in ‘Neon Blue’ and ‘Les Oiseaux Sont Là, Ils Attendent’ and ‘Night Train’s dramatic sweep.

Ta-Ha - X-RayZ/SunrayZ

Previously going by the name Senshi1992, the rapper/singer and Japanophile (on ‘Kawasaki Ninja’ she claims she “fell in love with a Yakuza”) from Bondy in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris changed her name to Ta-Ha for 2014’s Tuareg Shorty EP, with its standout track ‘Lil Bit’. She has previously explored similar internet-age preoccupations to Le Vasco – on ‘LCD (Screenlife)’ she sings “I am made of million billion trillion pixels for your eye”, but the twin EPs released near the end of last year seem to be themed around more old-fashioned themes of light and dark. Unsurprisingly, SunrayZ is the sunnier, more loved-up side, either through a personal connection, as on drowsy slow jam ‘247’, or something all-encompassing: ‘Wardenclyffe’s “I’m connected to the universe.”

Over on the X-RayZ dark side, ‘I Deserve It’ turns out to be very far from a paean to L’Oreal advert self-validation. Featuring the most skeletal production of any track on the two EPs (courtesy of fellow Parisian Myth Syzer) it rides an ominous two-note piano riff and is devastating in the level of post break-up resentment and self-punishment it metes out: “How could we ever ever think someone like us could ever be the future parents of a kid”. By the time we get to the fourth and final track ‘Death Ray’, a collaboration with ‘Lil Bit’ producer NXXXXXS this time) we’ve arrived at “what do you do next after my death”. Since I’m a miserable sod I naturally return to X-RayZ more often (‘I Deserve It’ is one of my tracks of 2016). Well that and the fact it literalises the whole ‘dream pop meets R&B’ thing by sampling Cocteau Twins’ ‘Lazy Calm’ on ‘X’.

John Cravache - Cités Nomades

Further evidence that I:Cube is one of the most creative and curious French producers to have emerged in the 90s, this marvellous oddity sees him teaming up with a certain Mr Cravache, a poet, performer and longtime acquaintance. They’ve previously done work for radio together, and this album, Cravache’s first, has apparently been 16 years in the making. And it does sound like that, given that it’s out of time, out of touch with any recognisable musical trends, and absolutely all over the shop in the most pleasing way possible. Some of the music is just about definable – ‘Les Voies Naturelles’ with its porn-funk lurch, ‘Paris Roswell’ which would just about be at home in Danceteria – but it makes more sense as a series of aural tableaux that have judiciously been left a little rough around the edges.

Cravache’s voice is the one unifying factor on the album. Or, more accurately, his voices. The range of delivery can vary from a nicotine rasp to on ‘Jacksonville’ to sonorous croon on ‘Mes Ongles De Femme’; he can be a wailing mystic one minute and the next a model of sacerdotal solemnity. It’s hysterical, bizarre and somehow reassuring - you always feel like you’re in safe hands regardless of where the pair’s free-spirited adventures lead you.

Richard Pinhas - Reverse
(Bureau B)

Last year in The Wire, Pinhas wrote that “we are not persons, individualities, we are not subjects or identities, we just stand connected as part of the Major Flux.” This says a lot about his status as a most un-heroic (in the sense of grandiose) guitar hero. While he undoubtedly has a sense of the epic, there’s no grandstanding when it comes to the actual playing. The interest on Reverse is frequently in the warp and weft – on opener ‘Dronz 1 – Ketter’ lines are interwoven until an optimal weight and thickness is reached. (Meanwhile the guitar on ‘Dronz 2 – End’ sounds actually warped and not unlike Kevin Shields.)

The record emerged from initial sessions in Paris with Oren Ambarchi, strands of which were then used as the basis for a recording with a band including Pinhas’s son on synths and UK drummer Arthur Narcy. Because nobody ‘stars’ here, nothing pokes out of the mix ahead of anything else, the initial impression, with the exception of the sparser ‘Dronz 2 – End’, is of forbidding density, but a couple of listens and you adjust, learning how to peer down into the fabric of the music.

‘Dronz 4 – V2’ is the only drumless track, and it sounds cosmically sad in places, which may or may not bear any relation to the fact the Reverse was recorded in the wake of Pinhas losing both his parents. Either way, it finishes with a burst of beatific fuzz that rushes in suddenly and dissipates almost as quickly. Pinhas says making the album was a healing process, and this feels like the point of renewal. A temporary release from subjectivity, a moment of pure flux.

Kas Product - Black & Noir
(Soul Jazz)

A sequel to last year’s Les Punks: The French Connection overview and part of the Punk 45 series, this sees Kas Product break out and star in their own Soul Jazz compilation. The last time they got this treatment was in 2015 when French label Ici D’ailleurs reissued Ego Eye, their final album. This rewinds all the way to before their debut Try Out and, as one might expect, is at the opposite end of the scale from Ego Eye’s frequently excessive slickness. KP’s first release was in 1980, after the first-wave of punks, and subsequently display a greater breadth of expression than, say, Métal Urbain (excellent as they were). Mona Soyoc’s torchy singing situates them in a more ‘post’ bracket, as does the use of electronics to provide a broader range of atmospheres, pointillist splurges and high energy basslines. But the music here is just as jacked up on nervous energy, even more so sometimes than that of the earlier groups. From the minimal strut of first single ‘Mind’ and scabrous noise-out ‘Black & Noir’, a melodic, rapid-cutting pop sensibility soon emerges that would bear fruit on Try Out and the 1983 album By Pass - in fact ‘Take Me Tonight’ is an early version of that album’s ‘T.M.T’, and a couple of the later songs here, ‘Crash’ and ‘Party’ are presumably out-takes from it, having previously been packaged with a French release. Now if we’re going to go this route, can someone do a spit and polish job on the fabulous Edith Nylon please? Merci.

Rockfort Quietus Mix 6 – January 2016 Tracklist

Kas Product – ‘Electric’ (Soul Jazz)
John Cravache – ‘Les Voies Naturelles’ (Versatile)
Aquaserge – ‘Les Yeux Fermés’ (Almost Musique/Crammed)
Richard Pinhas – ‘Dronz 2 – End’ (Bureau B)
Pointe Du Lac – ‘The Depths Of The Lake’ (Hylé Tapes)
La Féline – ‘La Mer Avalée’ (Kwaidan)
Delacave – ‘The Way Of Nothing’ (Teenage Menopause)
69 – ‘Black Crate’ (Le Turc Mécanique)
Zooey – ‘Jóia’ (Wonderfulsound)
Maud Octallinn – ‘RESUCITO’ (La Souterraine)
Puce Moment – ‘Situations’ (Chez Kito Kat)
Les Marquises – ‘Following Strangers (Ici D’Ailleurs)
Le Vasco – ‘Loved Ghost’ (Nowadays)
Ta-Ha – ‘I Deserve It’ (N/A)