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Rockfort: Your French Music Roundup For March & April
David McKenna , April 12th, 2018 14:18

Inspired by Greek myths, astronomers and the restful breath: an embarrassment of riches from France, selected by David McKenna. Includes: Aquaserge, Freeze Corleone and a deep love for Maria Callas

I’ve been almost overwhelmed by the quantity of great releases over the past few months – so much so that some I wanted to cover this time have already spilled over into the next column. In addition to the artists reviewed below, in the mix this month you’ll find Aquaserge doing a spellbound, French-language version of the Rodgers & Hart standard ‘My Funny Valentine’, taken from their highly recommended live album Déjà Vous that is released later this month; Colin Johnco, co-founder of the Johnkôôl label (Losange, Dr (Dr)one) with a track from his Berangère Maximin-mixed album However Far Away; and rapper Freeze Corleone, member of the 667 squad that also includes Lala. ‘Tx’ originally appeared on the 2017 album Thc but it was a more recent video that grabbed my attention.

10Lec6 - Bone Bame (Ed Banger)

Halfway through its second decade, Pedro Winter’s Ed Banger label is not merely coasting on reputation, but enlarging its purview to include the loopy Vladimir Cauchemar track ‘Aulos’ and this album. I’d previously encountered 10Lec6 on two releases - Counselling Orientation (2006) and Cannibal To Be (2008) – of spasmodic, bare-boned punk-funk and shrill-brat vocals. Two singers, Emy Rojas and Lili Phung, have been and gone, but the meeting in 2012 with Nicole Adjabe – who had just recently arrived in France from Cameroon and responded to an ad placed by 10Lec6 core members Jess (Jean-Sébastien Bernard) and Simon Bernheim – triggered a new phase of the band, one in which Adjabe’s influence and her lyrics in Cameroonian language Bulu, have sparked a transition to these just-on-the-boil grooves, filled with chattering percussion and steel pans.

The umbilical link to Liquid Liquid and ESG remains, particularly in Bernheim’s bass, and there’s a still-evident hardcore toughness that leaps into full view in the sudden, rapid-fire riffing that punctuates ‘Ayong Ya Yop’ and the sneering, DVNO-featuring ‘Augusta’. Not just organic fusion, these are moments of genuinely combustive collision.

NSDOS - Intution Vol 2 (Upton Park)

This is the second collection of former dance student, producer and video artist Kirikoo Des’s Alaskan recordings in which he has explored, as he puts it, the “fairly obvious link between nature and new technologies, or nature and music.” This kind of conceptual packaging is hardly unfamiliar, but the actual processes and results are intriguing and even startling. For one, Des has his own work station, “inspired by weather stations”, called Niakaby NS1, fitted with binaural microphones and allowing him to create music based on video tracking of movements in nature. For another, NSDOS never falls into the picturesque – his tracks are twitchy, crinkly things, both lush and harsh-edged, and demonstrating a beautiful grasp of the interaction between perceptions of (sonic, geographical) space and texture.

The fittingly titled ‘Interaction’ maintains a sense of purpose despite its apparently incongruous mix of a rusty, decayed rhythm track that wends its way around the sonic field, wind-noise and a recording of a cello. Opener ‘Dispersion’ drops sparkling synth droplets on a 4/4 that is embellished with irregular percussive detonations, while at the other end of the album ‘Hybridation’ shuffles on a beat like a slow merengue and features a repeated ping like a distressed submarine sonar. A real ear-refresher.

Golem Mécanique - Medea (Standard In-Fi)

Karen Jebane has been recording as Golem Mécanique since 2007, in addition to co-running the Drone Sweet Drone label, and this is her first outing on the ever-excellent Standard In-Fi. Medea fits well into their catalogue for the way it approaches traditional music obliquely and in a manner informed by minimalism and drone-based practices. Usually, Jebane composes with tapes and “electronic manipulations” but here, she says, she “wanted to make it as harsh as the desert is radical as Medea is.” Medea, that is, specifically as she is depicted in Pasolini’s 1969 film, played by Maria Callas.

To achieve this arid atmosphere, Jebane restricted herself to voice - which is sometimes reverbed and delayed, and doubled up to create a ghostly round or drifting harmonies - drone box and zither. Jebane’s presence is like that of an ancient apparition, singing only for herself, locked in cycles of private sorrow.

Egyptology - Sur Les Autres Mondes & Saåad - Présence Absente (Hands In The Dark)

Two releases on the label that has also put out music by Housewives, Tomaga and Bitchin Bajas. Sur Les Autres Mondes are producer Stéphane Laporte aka Domotic and Olivier Lamm (one of the Libération newspaper’s chief music critics, and previously found under the names O.Lamm and Odot), who previously put out 2012’s The Skies on the sadly defunct Clapping Music. Both their albums are analogue feasts but whereas The Skies frequently featured kraut or electro-influenced pulses, this sequel is kickless and even better for it. Growing out of a performance given at the Louvre, and inspired by astronomer and painter Lucien Rudaux’s ‘space art’ book of the same name (featuring his visions, based on available scientific knowledge, of what landscapes of the moon and other planets in the solar system might look like), Sur Les Autres Mondes’s four tracks, with the exception of the brief ‘A Remarkable Dream’, unfold at a luxurious pace that is appropriate to the cosmic vistas being evoked. ‘Wunder Der Schöpfung (Merveilles de la Création)’ features familiar kosmische arpeggios and builds patiently to its grandiloquent conclusion. ‘Fußabdrücke Auf Dem Mond’ has already soundtracked 1969 documentary ‘Footprints on the Moon: Apollo 11’ and does a wonderful job of evoking weightlessness before coming to land on Planet Vangelis.

Saåad, another duo (Gregory Buffier and Romain Barbot), were last found making use of the organ in the Church of Notre-Dame de Dalbade on Verdaillon and they clearly haven’t lost their taste for religious contemplation and awe – Présence Absente, absent presence, a title which could apply as much to faith as to musical recording, begins with ‘Libations’ – ritual offerings of liquid to deities. It and finale ‘Temps Étranger’ are heavy with incense and chimes, and I suspect Buffier and Barbot’s aim is to make your head swim. The rest of the album takes the form of lustrous drones that advance through the dusty half-light amid birdsong and noises like creaking wood. It’s best experienced as one long track, a single ceremony.

Bon Voyage Organisation - Jungle? Quelle Jungle? (Columbia)

BVO aren’t alone in delivering an updated ‘disco’ sound (in fact an amalgam of styles from the 70s and 80s, jazz-funk, afro-funk and fusion) in France now - they’re often bracketed with L’Impératrice - but Adrien Durand’s ‘group’ are the more complex and conflicted of the two. What they have in common is the post-Random Access Memories? drive to restore the magic of super-tight studio performance, human sweat and toil transubstantiated into something frictionless and fantastical.

Jungle? Quelle Jungle? is a gorgeously rich and phat, full of delicious musicianship – Durand is an in-demand producer who worked on the last Amadou & Mariam record – but also feels (deliberately, I believe) slightly distant, reverb creating a mirage-like effect and the guest singers, including Maud Nadal (Halo Maud), more like narrators or a Greek chorus than emotionally invested interprètes. There’s trouble under the surface in the form of Durand’s personal obsessions, and which cast Jungle? Quelle Jungle? as a kind of musical science fiction, initially influenced by a Chomsky article on the appearance of Chinese slang in Lagos. Approaching the globalised present as a jet-set fantasy certainly poses questions and generates unease. ‘Si D’Aventure’ is nigh-on irresistible but was apparently inspired by the ramping up of future-fear prior to the French elections.

Charlotte & Magon - Lyrical Miracle (Baby Showtime/Echo Orange)

The new album from the Franco-Israeli duo is another step in their development, following the Egg Dance and Power In EPs, into a wonderfully free and fruity pop band. The driving title track might be the most enjoyable thing the pair have ever done, kind of like an un-sardonic Ariel Pink and studded with fantastically niggly vocal hooks and production details. There’s no denying the Kate Bush influence that comes through in Charlotte’s voice, especially on the ballads, but when she hits the key change near the end of ‘Zie Got Her Own Style’ any resistance melts away. The song is also typical of the album’s humanism, celebrating ‘No-gender’, while the terrific power pop of ‘I Don’t Want Go’ is a very personal and relatable anti-conflict song about Israeli Magon’s fear of conscription. ‘Shaping and Reshaping’ and ‘Something Good’ revisit the dubbed-out funk moves of Egg Dance, and Magon takes the lead vocals on the cute, punky ‘Yes I Am’. Lyrical Miracle brims with ideas, memorable tunes, and a generous vision of pop as place of boundless possibility and exploration. Even what sounds like a chorus of children piping up on ‘The Garden’ can’t bring down the shutters of cynicism.

Setter - Transversal (Hylé Tapes)

The strength of duo Setter on this album for Hylé Tapes is in their ability to make stillness and constant motion feel like one and the same thing. Sections of ‘Ellipse’ are like the virtually ambient moments in Blue Nile songs set completely adrift, and Labradford come to mind when guitar makes an appearance on ‘Parks’.

The idea was to create “a contemplative soundscape bathed in flashes of light”. The first impression is of vague shapes, like the phosphenes you see when you close your eyes, but ‘Parks’ makes great play of skittering, jazzy percussion like rain on a roof, and all the tracks crackle with busy layers that ultimately serve to intensify the underlying glow.

Angèle David-Guillou – Mouvements Organiques (Village Green)

This EP takes tracks from former Piano Magic member David-Gillou’s very pretty, Nyman-school minimalist En Mouvement and reworks them for organ. In doing so, David-Gillou has transcended the originals and created her most beautiful work to date under her own name. The time of the source compositions has been dilated, with the ‘Vraisemblance’ becoming the three parts of the shimmering, shifting ‘Mouvements Organiques’. The other two tracks, ‘En Mouvement’ and ‘Respiro’, are more arpeggio-based, with the former introducing canny variations, while the latter achieves what I suppose to be its aim, being as simple and restful as a breath.

PinioL - Bran Coucou (Dur Et Doux)

In the simplest terms, PinioL are the seven-person congregation of two separate groups called PoiL and Ni. More broadly, they’re one of a number of bands in France right now, like Pixvae and Dur Et Doux label-mates Chromb!, which are jazzy in the technical ability of their members, but who in their musical elasticity embrace noise, metal and all manner of global rhythmic influences. With two drummers and two bassists, two keyboard players and two guitarists, PinioL obviously have a lot going on, in fact one can pretty safely describe them as proud maximalists – Bran Coucou’s seven long tracks are heaving, roiling and writhing, constantly evolving compositions, revelling in their ability to be both super-weighty and improbably nimble.

Rockfort Quietus Mix 11
Charlotte & Magon – ‘Lyrical Miracle’ (Baby Showtime/Echo Orange); Aquaserge – ‘My Funny Valentine’ (Almost/Crammed); Bon Voyage Organisation – ‘Si d’aventure’ (Columbia); 10Lec6 – ‘Ayong Ya Yop’ (Ed Banger); Freeze Corleone – ‘TX feat Bobby San’ (Freeze Corleone 667); Colin Johnco – ‘Head 2 Heart’ (Johnkôôl); Golem Mécanique – ‘Polynice’ (Standard In-Fi); Angèle David-Guillou – ‘Respiro’ (Village Green); Egyptology – ‘Passage d’eau (Sinfonia)’ excerpt (Hands In The Dark); NSDOS – ‘Interaction’ (Upton Park); PinioL – ‘Pogne’ (Dur Et Doux); Saåad – ‘Libations’ (Hands In The Dark); Setter – ‘Parks’ (Hylé Tapes)