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Rockfort: Your French Music Roundup For January & February
David McKenna , February 12th, 2018 07:14

Love for France Gall, memories of Hallyday, and some ace new stuff from Halo Maud, Chicaloyoh, Vacarme et plus

Early December, I watched the coverage of Johnny Hallyday’s funeral on TV in a hotel room in Rennes. We’d had interviews with just a few of the 700-odd bikers lining the Champs Elysées in tribute to their fallen idol, and now here was a priest wasting no time in comparing Johnny to Jesus, since each was a “rebel” and “rascal” in his own way (the word used for the latter was “canaille”, and was partly a reference to Hallyday’s membership of Les Vieilles Canailles – “The Old Rogues – a Rat Pack/Three Tenors-style concept named after a Serge Gainsbourg adaptation of swing number ‘You Rascal You’, and featuring Hallyday alongside contemporaries Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc). This was followed by a speech from Macron in which the central image was that of Johnny rising from the dead to give one final, heroic performance.

There was enough in these few hours to keep students of French popular culture busy for years; the associations between Hallyday, bikers and la ‘France d’en bas’ (a loaded term for the regions and more rural areas, inhabited by a people envisaged as having very different concerns from Paris-based sophisticates, perhaps even ‘legitimate’ ones); the leader of a secular state underlining Johnny’s status as a saint or Christ figure, with a life story that takes in humble origins, the temptations of fame and subsequent redemption; the fact that France’s biggest music star, and no doubt the last of his kind, was almost exclusively influenced by American culture.

Although there’s more than a handful of Hallyday recordings I genuinely like, thinking about Johnny is often more interesting than listening to him. Not so for France Gall, though, who didn’t get as many column inches here when she died just a few weeks ago. As with so many non-French fans, I arrived at Gall through Gainsbourg, and the 60s material is what I generally return to. But even there, going beyond the Gainsbourg collaborations is essential for getting the measure of her talent, as a listen to any of her jazz-oriented recordings from the period – ‘Jazz A Gogo’, ‘Le Coeur Qui Jazze’, ‘Le Temps Du Tempo’ or ‘Les Yeux Bleus’ – will demonstrate. It’s the mellifluousness of her tone as she extends vowels that gets me every time.

In this month’s mix, as well as tracks prized from the releases below, you’ll find new music from Autrenoir (Mondkopf again - see below - in another collaboration, this time with Greg Buffier); the evergreen Pierre Bastien being escorted onto the dancefloor by Eddie Ladoire; a mystic club odyssey from Bobun Fever; the return of analogue-obsessed producer Domotic; a track courtesy of Nicolas Laureau of NLF3, in his guise as Don Niño, from rarities collection Collected In The Dust; and a return to the skewed pop world of Hypo, from his recent Hippo EP.

La Féline - Triomphe & La Féline - Royaume EP (Kwaidan)

Triomphe, the album in this pair of releases, came out over a year ago but has finally been getting a promotional push in the UK. If La Féline’s debut Adieu L’Enfance was an exercise in emotionally and musically compact musique de chambre, this second album from Agnès Gayraud marks clear progress into a richer sound world, while also seeing her return to the mythscapes of earlier EP tracks like ‘Three Graces’ or ‘Cent Metres De Haut’. In the latter, Gayraud was 100 metres tall with “breasts of stone” and “thighs of concrete”; her avatars on Triomphe include the Miyazaki-inspired, forest-dwelling warrior ‘Senga’, a “masked heroine” for ‘Trophée’, and an entity capable of swallowing the sea in ‘La Mer Avalée’.

The songs’ arrangements are carefully laid out like stage sets; each track is appropriately decorated – undulating arpeggios for ‘La Mer Avalée’, or scratchy, woody percussion and a strange, chirruping noise, somewhere between bird and insect, that serves as a hook on ‘Senga’. The passages of ‘free’ playing, like Yoann Durant’s sax on ‘Le Royaume’, still exist primarily to serve the overall picture.

Since UK reviews of this album have been uniformly excellent (and I’m adding my recommendation here too), this delicately theatrical, non-frontal manner of accessing meaning or emotion must chime with a feeling some of us Anglos generally associate with, and enjoy about, French pop. It’s one of those occasions where the fact that an album is sung entirely in French (except for the Italian chorus on the Blondie-esque disco pop of ‘Gianni’) seems to have enhanced its allure rather than constituting a barrier.

The Royaume EP came out near the tail end of 2017 and is the fruit of collaborations with Laetitia Sadier and Paul Régimbeau aka Mondkopf, recorded at Red Bull Studios in Paris. In both cases the time constraints resulted in a more immediate energy. The two Sadier tracks, ‘À La Divinité’ and a rerecording of ‘Le Royaume’, are sparse and spacious, with the pair’s vocals combining beautifully during ‘À La Divinité’s mid-section modulations.

Mondkopf also features on Triomphe’s ‘Trophée’ and had previously remixed a couple of La Féline tracks. For the Red Bull session, they covered cult songwriter Gérard Manset’s ‘Comme Un Guerrier’, once as a slow creep to an explosive finale then again as a pounding electro-rock battle cry. You can hear how Gayraud regularly re-evaluates which line to take between chanson-craft and looser or more left-field musical approaches. That tension will undoubtedly remain, and it’s one of the most fascinating aspects of these two releases, but the Mondkopf tracks give a tantalising taste of what further outward exploration – or indeed further collaborations between this pair – could bring.

Deux Boules Vanille - Planète Gougou (Kythibong)

A tale of two drummers: Deux Boules Vanille (two scoops of vanilla, if I’ve got this right) are Loup Gangloff and Frédéric Mancini, and both play kits fitted with sensors which they use to trigger synths. The result is polyrhythmic symbiosis/warfare as they interlock with or overdub each other.

This release on the excellent Kythibong is their second following 2015’s Tutti Frutti and although it’s better recorded and more intricate the pair clearly still enjoy their sounds in big, rugged, chunky blocks. Sometimes it’s like they’re juggling bricks, starting out with a few easy passes before the moves become more intricate and the techno-inspired repetition and variation starts to take hold. Many of these tracks are eminently danceable as well - ‘Cousine d’été’ may or may not be a take on Tropical House - and their gonzo attitude extends to song titles like the marvellous ‘Arcane Sandwich’. This is anything but vanilla.

Halo Maud - Du Pouvoir EP (Heavenly)

Halo Maud’s first release on Heavenly is a recap of the story so far ahead of an album release later this year – three tracks of this EP originally came out on a Canadian label last year, with the difference that ‘Du Pouvoir’ now features some English lyrics, and ‘À La Fin’ and ‘Dans La Nuit’ cropped up on a La Souterraine compilations in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Maud Nadal has been a member of both Moodoïd and Melody’s Echo Chamber’s live bands, and of course at times there are comparisons to be drawn with MEC, with both teetering on a crystalline peak where extreme joy and despair meet. But if anything Nadal’s own melodies are even more indelible, and her voice turns them into vapour trails.

‘Du Pouvoir/Power’, as it’s now called, brings to mind Prince’s appreciation of Cocteau Twins, feeling like a (successful) attempt to combine the departed maestro’s Linn drum patterns (specifically ‘When Doves Cry’) with a twinkling, Twins-style frost of guitar and keyboards. But her track ‘Baptism’ is something else again, an almost bluesy lament with a troubling refrain: “What happened after… I don’t remember.” And I’ll put it out there, ‘Dans La Nuit’ has more than a hint of early Mylène Farmer about it and that’s fine by me.

Vacarme - S/T (Le Festival Permanent)

You might imagine a group with this name – ‘vacarme’ means din or racket – was setting its stall out unambiguously. But this isn’t the kind of din you’d expect: one cello player, Gaspar Claus, and two violinists, Carla Pallone (Mansfield TYA, Stranded Horse) and Christelle Lassort. The first piece ‘V’ – the titles spell out the band’s name – is a minute and a half of tense, dry scraping. It segues into ‘A’, which is where you start to get a sense of what’s going on, the three combining in a drone and nearly merging into one while always retaining the subtle distinctness of each (p)layer. One will then peel off and be temporarily more visible on the surface before re-joining the flow.

‘C’ crystallises the idea of simultaneous stillness and movement, while the second ‘A’ shows they have other strings to their… (well you get the idea), making powerful use of silence.

Le Reveil Des Tropiques - Big Bang (Music Fear Satan)

It’s been a six-year wait for a second album from Le Reveil Des Tropiques, who feature members of such French underground fixtures as Ulan Bator and Oiseaux-Tempête. They holed up in the Kerwax studio in Brittany to jam, and this is the result. The krautrock influence is strong, but what’s nice over the four tracks here is a certain lack of preciousness, the general lack of noodling – there are thick, decisive strokes and an excitability which edges out any studiousness; galloping opener ‘Synchrotron’ keeps picking up and and easing off the pace just for the sheer hell of it.

Keyboards come to the fore for a floatier ‘Effet Casimir’, while ‘Hypernova’ manages to keep its powder dry until half way through before absolutely flying through its hard-riffing, wah-sprayed conclusion. Only ‘Matière Noire’ (‘Dark Matter’), with its heavy guitar fug, seems to adhere to its title too literally but it’s still a solid mood piece.

Black Zone Myth Chant - Feng Shen (Editions Gravats) & Chicaloyoh - La Boue Ralentit Le Cercle (213)

These two albums by Rockfort favourites were both released near the end of last year and got lost in the cracks between columns.

First Black Zone Myth Chant, which I don’t think we can keep referring to as a High Wolf ‘side project' given we’re on album number three now and Feng Shen is clearly not a dalliance but a significant further expansion of the BZMC sound. We’re definitely not going to be calling it a hip-hop project either, since this album is about strange and luminous takes on dancehall and electro. It’s both glassy and humid, like a tropical plant display inside an abstract hothouse.

Chicaloyoh (Alice Dourlen)’s commitment to inducing, or at least attempting to convey, altered states shows absolutely no signs of abating – “Je m’epuise jusqu’a l’epuisement” (“I exhaust myself to the point of exhaustion”) she sings on the album’s title track, over a backward-sucked rhythm and a wash of murky piano and moaning, and it sounds as though she’s willing herself to that point just to see what happens next. La Boue Ralentit Le Cercle generally has a parched, arid feel, cracked and faded in the sun, except for ‘La Plante Folle et L’Eau Raison’ which is a recording of Dourlen singing a folky tune in the shower and gargling with the water as it falls into her mouth - a great concept, delightfully executed.

Rockfort Quietus Mix 10
Hypo feat. Kumisolo – ‘One Night’ (N/A); Black Zone Myth Chant – ‘Under Protest / Telos’ (Editions Gravats); Bobun Fever – ‘Coco Jam’ (Tricollectif); Pierre Bastien & Eddie Ladoire – ‘Phantom Dance’ (Versatile); La Féline & Mondkopf – ‘Comme Un Guerrier II’ (Kwaidan); Deux Boules Vanille – ‘Grigougne Et Ratagoinfre’ (Kythibong); Le Reveil Des Tropiques – ‘L’Effet Casimir’ (Music Fear Satan); Chicaloyoh – ‘La Plante Folle Et L’Eau Raison’ (213); Autrenoir – ‘Fange’ (Distant Voice); Domotic – ‘Terrain Vague’ (Gonzaï); Don Niño – ‘Volcano’ (Prohibited); Halo Maud – ‘À La Fin’ (Heavenly); Vacarme – ‘M’ (Le Festival Permanent)