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Franck Vigroux
Totem Joseph Burnett , June 11th, 2019 09:33

Totem by Franck Vigroux is brutal, but subtly so, finds Joseph Burnett

With a title like Totem and its evocation of Native American traditions and the stereotypical association that evokes of nature and animals one could be forgiven for assuming French producer-composer Franck Vigroux has gone down a folk road. Instead his collision of musique concrète and electronica reasserts folk’s relationship to both the avant-garde and dance music, albeit in brutalist and abrasive fashion. This isn’t music for a campfire sing-song or to be played in a pub at midsummer but its rugged vigour nonetheless stretches away from modern production tools into something more primeval.

Totem features some of the most uncompromising and colossal electronic music you will hear this year. In a manner not a million miles away from the later work of the great Scott Walker, Vigroux builds up and juxtaposes hefty blocks of sound, often alternating between moments of calm and seething noise, as on ‘Capaupire’ on which a metronomic, minimal backbeat and ambient textures are sporadically interrupted by walls of abrasive white noise. On ‘Tropiques Tropiques’ these slabs of noise come close to echoing the caustic doom metal of a SUNN O))) or a Wolves in the Throne Room, another North American pagan leitmotiv to chime with the album’s title even as it slyly confounds any expectations of the tropics.

For all the sturm und drang, however, Totem is a subtle and intricate album that owes just as much to Wolfgang Voigt as it does Throbbing Gristle or Merzbow. Tracks like ‘Rhinocéros’, ‘Frontières’ and ‘Baron’ are low-key electronic explorations, hypnotic beats and looped synth patterns building quietly, with the expected explosions of noise kept at bay. The joy is in delving into the sonic depths Vigroux plunders to parse out hidden melodies and meanings. ‘Cris’ and ‘Chronostasis grand finale’ meanwhile are redolent of Ben Frost’s epic constructions but with the Australian’s bombast stripped away to reveal a moody, haunted core. ‘Elephant’ takes this mood to notable heights as synth lines and disembodied voices swim in and out of focus like ghosts pleading to be noticed before a wave of drone swallows them whole like a tide.

On Totem, Franck Vigroux’s take on folk traditions sees him heave up almighty boulders of sound to unearth the hidden ghosts underneath. Quite how they relate to a notion of totems remains somewhat out of reach, as do the animals evoked in certain track titles. Is this a form of unpleasant cultural appropriation or a case of sardonic humour? Such questions can make it a frustrating experience but on the other hand Totem certainly towers like its namesakes tend to and between this scale and the mysteries it contains, it’s an album that lingers in the memory even after the last notes have faded away.