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Rockfort: Your Fresh Releases de la France for January & February
David McKenna , January 31st, 2019 07:42

There are several trips to France’s mountainous south east in this month’s column, and a serious tobogganing incident.

The new year has brought an avalanche of releases as well as an opportunity to round up a few of 2018’s stragglers, including an intriguing take on one of the biggest French pop tracks of last year. Bonuses in the mix this month include noisemakers Terrine (with a track from her Cheat Days album) and Fusiller (with a highlight from rap producer Myth Syzer’s Bisous Mortels mixtape); vocal trio Tartine de Clous keep up the Auld Alliance with Alasdair Roberts and Neil McDermott.

Grand Veymont - Grand Veymont (Outré)

Well here’s a thing - a new UK label that, for the time being at least, is entirely devoted to French acts. After last year’s Juniore primer, the second release from Outré is a self-titled release from Béatrice Morel Journel and Josselin Varengo (also members of Lyon garage rockers Gloria), who describe their music as krautrock de salon – ‘living room krautrock’. If that suggests a modesty of intent, their name summons up something else entirely: Grand Veymont is the highest peak in the Massif du Vercors range near Grenoble. As it turns out, they’re both understated and expansive. The basic vocabulary - warm vintage organ drones and rhythm presets, mesmeric/mesmerised vocals, interlocking melodic loops - will be familiar to fans of Stereolab and Broadcast, even Young Marble Giants, but GV progress in their own time, savouring the long ascent. Their tracks regularly break the 10-minute mark and Grand Veymont only features four, with ‘Je Cours Après Avant’ dominating the first side as it cycles through different tempos and modes. ‘Les Rapides Bleus’ and ‘L’Odyssée Du Petit Parleur’ ripple gently (and delightfully) but ‘Upie’ points to slightly more unhinged possibilities for the duo.

Jac Berrocal, David Fenech, Vincent Epplay - Ice Exposure (Blackest Ever Black)
& Various Artists - Songs For Chris (À découvrir absolument)

Keeping faith with the sober cover design of their first release on Blackest Ever Black, 2015’s Anti-Gravity, Berrocal, Fenech and Epplay’s new LP once again reels off a series of noirish, outlandish scenarios in which the recurrent themes include invocations of veteran Berrocal’s jazz touchstones – there’s a cover of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’ – and dreamy or dread-filled evocations of far-flung destinations; instead of ‘Panic In Bali’ and ‘Riga Centraal’ we now get ‘Panic in Surabya’ and ‘Car Havana Midi’. ‘Radio Tachkent’ suggests that radio, and the possibility of drifting between different, overlapping transmissions, is also part of the picture. But that doesn’t mean that Ice Exposure is chaotic. Its 14 tracks are like punchy scenes or short stories – rich in dubbed-out detail, spooked vocal and trumpet lines, kicks like distant, controlled explosions and twangy, whammied guitar, but also tightly edited. You get the angle, the impression, and then you move on.

David Fenech is also to be found on Songs For Chris, a compilation inspired by the controversy – greater in France than anywhere else I think – over Christine & The Queens basing ‘Girlfriend’/’Damn dis-moi’ almost entirely on royalty-free Apple loops. A nuanced response to the debate (and in particularly to the outright condemnation Héloise Letissier received in some quarters) from the À Découvrir Absolument website and label saw musicians being invited to make their own tracks based on precisely the same four loops, “to see if we could go further than a simple cut and paste, but without any intention of mocking the singer’s work.” Tracks like Fenech’s ‘Christine At The Supermarket’, Thx’s ‘Trap For Chris’ and TripleGronk’s ‘Suxxxès’ seem like logical extensions of the “democratic” and “mischievous” spirit in which Letissier approached her track.

Orgue Agnès - À une gorge (A1000p/three:four/Standard In-Fi)
& Sourdure - Mantra Del Vespre (In Paradisum)
& Tanz Mein Herz - Un Autre Version De Territory (Desastre/Mental Groove/Standard In-Fi)
& Guilhem Lacroux - La Journée (Standard In-Fi)

This isn’t the first time I’ve thrown Èlg (Laurent Gérard) and Sourdure (Ernest Bergez) together in a column, but this time, following a Bergez feature on Èlg’s Vu Du Dôme, it’s because they’ve thrown themselves, along with Kaumwald’s Clément Vercelletto on drums, into a roisterous new collaboration. Released towards the tail-end of last year, Orgue Agnès’s À une gorge is a jamboree of herky-jerky hypnotised chicken grooves, a weird and wild collection that stomps and shimmies its way to being one of the finest underground French releases of 2018. Vercelletto ties it down with his pan-African inspirations, Bergez brings in rhythmic hooks and violin crescendos and Gérard supplies babble and distorted blasts of harmonica. They also take time to brood on ‘L’inalpe’ which, with its blend of violin and electronically shredded vocals and clomping footstep rhythm, is like being stalked through an abandoned souk by a robot assassin.

In Paradisum have picked up Bergez’s latest as Sourdure, a live recording from the Echos festival in 2016 where he also recorded his Mantras album. This is a single improvisation based on a folk song from the Massif Central, ‘Une Filheta de Lion’. The microphones pick up the birdsong, wind, general chatter and crunching footsteps at the Alpine farm, initially much more loudly than Bergez’s music (which I presume, as with the Mantras, was amplified by the three giant horns facing a 2km cliff-face) but gradually the violin swells and vocals billow around the landscape (and the soundscape, which are one and the same) like a pantheistic call to prayer.

Bergez is also a member of Tanz Mein Herz, whose new album comprises alternate versions of the two tracks that made up the group’s 2015 release Territory. Tanz Mein Herz don’t so much do progress, or variety – both ‘Au Brégaçonnet’ and ‘Tales from the middle of the night’ are similarly paced, undulating trance-folk – but they do find ways to go deeper. In their own way they’ve made dub versions of the originals – opening out the space, teasing out strands of the sound while submerging others. On his previous Standard In-Fi release, Tanz Mien Herz (as well as Faune, Toad and La Baracande) member Guilhem Lacroux’s focus was on a variety of stringed instruments – guitar, banjo, lapsteel and mandolin. i>La Journée is something else entirely. It actually dates back to the mid 90s while he was a student at the Conservatoire National de Région de Lyon and is a collage of dialogue, drones, found sounds and more that is by turns amusing, disturbing, disorienting and surprising.

M.A Beat! - Microsizers (BMM)

The first and possibly least important thing to know about M.A Beat! is that their name is a play on the French for ‘my cock’. Once you’ve got past that, there’s plenty to relish about this three-piece, and perhaps never more so than on this album of B-sides and rarities. Over two albums they’ve proved increasingly adept at merging glitchy electronics, hip hop, post-rock, West Coast psychedelia and supple jazz-funk, collaborating with Laraaji along the way, but Microsizers is particularly delightful perhaps because it’s such a neat pouchful of crunchy nuggets and shimmering shards. Of all bands, and I hadn’t got this from them previously, it recalls Broadcast (and Broadcast influences like The United States of America) – on opener ‘Le pouce noir’ with its delicately strummed guitar, beeps’n’bloops and hymnal organ, or the cantering freakbeat of ‘Meridian’, but generally in the dusty, decayed sound, the heavy use of delay and reverb, across much of the record. As ‘Pink Eyes’ demonstrates, they can also write lovely, chiming tunes. Microsizers (another cock joke?) is more than a mere curio. In my eyes at least, it enhances their stature.

Tsirihaka Harrivel & Vimala Pons - Victoire Chose (Teenage Menopause)
Harrivel and Pons are better known in the world of contemporary French performance and circus – Pons is a trained juggler and acrobat as well as a screen actor. Her partner Harrivel made the papers for the wrong reason in 2017 when, in the course of a performance of his acclaimed show with Pons, Grande, he fell from a height of around seven metres during a toboggan stunt. Fortunately (perhaps miraculously, even taking his training into account) he survived, and we have this oddly touching album to enjoy.

Pons and Harrivel, joined by Olivier Demeaux (Heimat, Cheveu, Accident Du Travail), are both multi-instrumentalists, and between them play keyboards, guitar, keening trumpet, clarinet and more, and sing, reciting or declaim the texts. The songs are based on music used in the Grande show and are inspired by a love of music hall but also wonky synth pop and classic Italian film soundtracks – the title ‘Rome Yamaha’ just about sums up this convergence of styles. ‘J’ai rien fait’ is both sprightly and tragic, and the tipsy cruise ship waltz of ‘Tranquille’ has a vibe close to I’m Your Man-era Leonard Cohen but with extra injections of clattering, strafing noise (and much higher-pitched vocals).

Bégayer - Terrain à mire. Une maison rétive. Contrainte par le toit (Les Disques Bongo Joe/Le Saule)

Released just too late to make one of last year’s columns, Bégayer’s debut album proper sees them pursuing a rust-bucket take on panglobal folk styles that arrives at its own kind of otherness. Composed over the course of a year and recorded at l’Épicerie Moderne, a venue and arts centre in Feyzin to the south of Lyon, it’s another superb example of the inventiveness and delicious impurity of the current French folk scene. Voices are unfettered, pushed to near-breaking point, percussion is thrashed and guitars are like a wire wool scrub for the ears – and it’s thoroughly invigorating.

It’s hard to pick up on what’s being sung, especially as the language shifts between French, Arabic and Italian (the trio’s vocalist and guitarist calls himself Loup Alberto, most likely a reference to Italian comic book character Lupo Alberto). Perhaps there’s something in the fact the group are from the Alps, not just because of the wild backdrop but also the crossover with Italy and Switzerland that produces hybrid identities and dialects.

Laure Briard - Un Peu Plus D’Amour S’Il Vous Plaît (Midnight Special)
& Le Groupe Obscur - Selesȼa EP (Midnight Special)

Two here from indie pop label Midnight Special. I reviewed Briard’s excellent Brazilian departure, the Coração Louco EP, last summer and now she’s back with a long player and (mostly) singing in French again, except on ‘Kooky Sun’, the sighing ‘Someone’ and lounge jazz-y ‘Love Across The Sea’. She’s still wedded to 60s and 70s pop styles and formats – baroque psych, yé-yé, sunny MOR and traces of Brazilian pop – with Un Peu Plus D’Amour S’Il Vous Plaît’s ten tracks and their sequencing making for a very vinyl-minded release. Or maybe it’s about not expending energy uselessly, which appears to be her concern on ‘Énergie’. That track and ‘Kooky Sun’ fizz by and are as richly detailed in their arrangements and layered production as the showstopping ballad that gives the album its name.

The inescapable first thought with Le Groupe Obscur is “mon dieu, it’s the French Cocteau Twins!”, from the watery chorus smothering guitars and bass to the vaulting vocals and invented language – ‘L’Obscurien’ – that they use some of the time (hence all the ‘ȼ’s in the titles). Much as I love Cocteau Twins, perhaps because I love Cocteau Twins, this is not something I could have ever imagined wanting in my life. I was wrong, though, because I apparently can’t get enough of this shit and Le Groupe Obscur are super good at it. If you’re going to do derivative, do it like this, or at least write tunes as memorable as glittering centrepiece ‘Apnea’. This is their debut EP, so a more distinct identity may well emerge in time (and to be fair they do already have some moves of their own), but in the meantime this will do very nicely.

Quietus Mix 15 Alasdair Roberts, Neil McDermott & Tartine de clous – ‘Brave marin’ (Okraïna); Guilhem Lacroux – ‘La douche’ (Standard In-Fi); Terrine – ‘Grand pas’ (Bruit direct); Orgue Agnès – ‘Lou Nina’ (three:four/A1000p/Standard In-Fi); M.A Beat! – ‘Psalm’ (BMM); Myth Syzer – ‘Cross (feat. Ateyaba, Lino)’ (Animal 63); TripleGronk – ‘Suxxxès’ (À découvrir absolument); Jac Berrocal, David Fenech, Vincent Epplay – ‘Lower Mechanism’ (Blackest Ever Black); Tsirihaka Harrivel & Vimala Pons – ‘J’ai Rien Fait’ (Teenage Menopause); Le Groupe Obscur – ‘Planète Ténèbres’ (Midnight Special); Grand Veymont – ‘Upie’ (Outré); Bégayer – ‘الميل’ (Les Disques Bongo Joe/Le Saule); Fusiller – ‘6’ (Tanzprocesz); Laure Briard – ‘Énergie’ (Midnight Special)