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Rockfort! French Music For Winter Reviewed By David McKenna
David McKenna , December 6th, 2019 11:00

David McKenna rounds up the best pop, rock, hip hop &c. releases from France

The last column of the year before the end-of-year round-up has presented me with even more difficult choices when it comes to picking the Top Ten. As noted below, rap duo TripleGo haven’t made matters any easier by releasing their second of the year, one that’s possibly even better than the first. Highly inconsiderate. This Winter edition also sees the welcome return of some other favourites of this column, like Arlt and La Féline, a Frenchman surveying the UK jazz scene, various strains of minimalism and some rustic charmers.

In addition to the reviews below, the mix features a new track from Erotic Market, executive produced by dancehall don King Doudou, a track from an EP by producer Qoso on UK label The Trilogy Tapes, some new noise from Oiseaux-Tempête’s latest album – featuring the The Ex’s G.W. Sok – and it closes with a live recording of duo Accident Du Travail from their Live au café Oto album. I have a feeling I was there so I may be one of those applauding vigorously at the end.

Arlt - Soleil Enculé
(Objet Disque)

A lovely sentiment for winter here – or one perhaps inspired by our over-heating planet - Soleil Enculé could perhaps be translated as ‘damned sun’ (although those with a working knowledge of French swearing will know that’s a fairly mild reading). I’m not entirely sure, but one certain thing about Arlt is that they sound sun-frazzled and precariously poised, like they’ve been getting pissed in the heat all day and now have to dress up and act straight for a formal soirée. It’s there in the giddy, shuffling-and-bouncing, ‘Les Commencements’ - “How funny to think of that/ how about we get undressed instead/ what’s your name?”

Arlt’s core duo of singer and instrumentalist Eloïse Decazes (also known for her work with Eric Chenaux, Delphine Dora, Stranded Horse and others) and singer/guitarist Sing Sing acts as a strange attractor for other actors in the French underground – guitarist Mocke (Midget!) is still present, Ernest Bergez (Sourdure) is on production duties and Kaumwald/Orgue Agnès’s Clément Vercelletto is a recent arrival on percussion and electronics. This new configuration has resulted in the group’s giddiest, wonkiest music, sometimes as on ‘Le Ciel Est Tarte’ and ‘L’Instant Même’ in a sort of Beefheartian take on chanson, as well as some of their most heart-weary ballads. ‘L’Angine’: Decazes and Sing Sing trading the lines “A throat infection/ isn’t going to stop me/ I want to drink from your glass” as drums, guitar, clarinet and flexatone stagger about without ever quite losing their balance.

Neue Grafik Ensemble - Foulden Road
(Total Refreshment Records)

Producer and DJ Fred N’thepe is one of those musicians who has some justification for saying that there has always been a jazz element to his sound, which he came to partly via hip hop. This release on Total Refreshment Centre’s record label is also not his first link up with a UK label, unsurprisingly for someone who described his early music as “UK garage made in France”. The Innervision EP was released on Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section and saw him building in more live instrumental textures. This release goes considerably further though; it’s a collaboration cooked up by TRC between N’thepe and artists orbiting the North East London hub. The ensemble features trumpet player and arranger Emma-Jean Thackray and guests including saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Having previously referenced Parisian locations in his tracks, N’thepe is now giving us London through his eyes. The EP name and opening track start us at TRC’s address before we trip through zones and pick up traces of the new jazz, broken beat, grime and UK garage. It’s presented in a seamless flow, from the jumping title track through ‘Dalston Junction’s slinky bump, ‘Voodoo Rain’s rolling polyrhythms, and we drop in on live performances at TRC and Giant Steps on ‘Something Is Missing’ and ‘Hotel Laplace’. More than a great EP, Foulden Road is a beautiful piece of sonic cartography.

La Féline - Vie Future
(Kwaidan)

The third album by Agnès Gayraud, with her studio partner Xavier Thiry, is out shortly before the UK translation of Dialectique de la pop, her total theory of pop music. In it she discusses pop’s utopian promises, one of which is that of reconciling the ‘popular’ and the ‘good’, as well as the acceptance that one’s ideal of great pop may not correspond with what is currently marketable. Gayraud is still as hopefully/hopelessly devoted to pop music (according to her own definition) as a medium on her third album – the chorus of ‘Effet De Nuit’s aqueous synth pop resolves in a sequence that nods to Dylan, or even Dire Straits – as something that can be both accessible and a vehicle for big ideas, deeply personal expression and experimentation.

Vie Future addresses the birth of her first child, the death of her stepfather, the future (as apocalypse, or hanging by the slenderest thread) and science fiction. An earlier track listing I saw moved from dystopian images and death towards new life and optimism. The final, more troubling sequence, which ends with the lush, string-laced paranoia of ‘Depuis Le Ciel’, takes us full circle back to ‘Palmiers Sauvage’ and its slow-burning, elegiac evocation of the earth in 2034 as a literal living hell. Either way though it’s her finest album, synthesising and building on the best aspects of the previous two; there’s greater depth in the sound and more adventure in the arrangements. ‘Visions De Dieu’s surging “krautrock de maman” sees her coming over like a French counterpart to Jane Weaver, and ‘Tant Que Tu Respires’ turns out to be its most affecting moment, the clipped beat and warmly familiar arpeggios surging into a lyrically unadorned lament for Gayraud’s stepfather, while a needling guitar line circles like a question that goes forever unanswered.

France Sauvage - L’Homme À Zéro
(In Paradisum)
&
Super Parquet - S/T
(Pagans)

France Sauvage - with a band name like that, how can I resist? - are a trio (Manuel Duval, Arno Bruil and Johann Mazé) who, in addition to their various solo projects, have been improvising and performing together for around ten years, frequently putting out recordings culled from live sets. This, their first on Guillaume Heuguet and Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf)’s In Paradisum label is being touted as a slightly more conventional album “that feels recorded straight from a garage studio”. Where it was actually recorded, I don’t know; it does indeed feel more studio-based and composed (whether through editing or otherwise) than previous material. But there’s still a great freedom and variety within their pastoral/industrial aesthetic, which the band themselves describe as “free rural”.

’Parle toi de nous’ is perhaps a more traditional industrial stomp but on ‘Les Grandes Heures Du Temps’, a treated voice creates a throbbing, didgeridoo-like drone and a melody is picked out with a very John Barry-esque electric harpsichord sound; and on ‘Azi Danza’, shading is added to birdsong and general outdoor ambiance by a distant, barely perceptible organ, before a transition into sheep or cowbells and an oddly-pitched and harmonised chant that’s like the Laughing Gnome at morning prayer.

There’s a wild, rural French spirit also coursing through the eponymous album by Super Parquet. It’s on the Pagans label, which has also put out music by the similarly minded Sourdure and the mighty France, among others, all of whom join the dots to different degrees between folk’s drone-and-repetition-induced trances, classical and electronic minimalism. In Super Parquet’s case, the union of Auvergnat folk and techno might not in itself sound too appetising, recalling as it does several country-dance crimes, but the results are scintillating. They steer away from the idea that folky-authenticity equals lo-fi; the six tracks here are big gleaming beasts replete with unapologetic beats, swells of hurdy-gurdy, twirling cabrette (Auvergnat bagpipe) and spiralling banjo, tempered around the edges by a little fierce white noise. A rousing, epic countryside rave-up.

Tachycardie - Probables
(Un Je Ne Sais Quoi)
&
Spelterini - Pergélisol/Chorémanie
(Kythibong)

Tachycardie’s album is the first under the name from drummer Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy (also to be found in F.U.T.U.R.O.S.C.O.P.E and the brilliant four-bands-in-one project La Colonie Des Vacances). It’s first piece, ‘1000 Fois Bonjour Depuis Le Vignemale’, written for and played by 17 musicians and clocking in at over 18 minutes, is so mammoth you fear it will dwarf the rest of the release. An opening sequence of clanging, like particularly harsh church bells, is suddenly picked up and carried by thunderous, galloping drums and single note brass-and-string pulses. In the minimalist style, the lines start to become more elaborate, weaving around each other and starting to phase. The drums drop out halfway through, leaving the strident stamping to gradually dissolve into a dark pool of swirling strings, before a final salvo of rattling percussion that’s like a bevy of piston engines all being pushed to their limits. While the rest of the tracks here, which were recorded solo in a few days, aren’t quite as imposing, they’re still dynamic and full of energising rhythmical salvos.

Spelterini are a four piece featuring two of Geoffroy’s colleagues in La Colonie Des Vacances, Arthur de La Grandière and Pierre-Antoine Parois, with Nico Joubo and Meriadeg Orgebin. Their album features two long tracks, with the first - ‘Pergélisol’- like an extended outro or breakdown of a hardcore track developing a life of its own. It’s paired with ‘Chorémanie’, a more varied piece which extends a ‘Waiting For My Man’-style chug for five minutes, takes a detour into largely drumless space and drifting tones, and finally reprises the original, propulsive beat with gusto.

Mauvais Oeil - Nuits De Velours EP
(Entreprise)
&
Acid Arab - Jdid
(Crammed Discs)

Mauvais Oeil (‘Evil Eye’) can be seen as part of the indie-fication of ‘world music’ – like Dutch band Altin Gün’s take on Turkish psych folk – which might bother some, but one can also go too far in demands for rootsy purity. Singer Sarah Benabdallah, who makes up MO with Alexis Lebon, draws on her Algerian origins and switches between French and Arabic to stunning effect. Feeding into Nuits De Velours EP are French new wave pop that wouldn’t shame a Rita Mitsouko LP, indie rock (‘Constantine’ with its spiralling riff), and North African-influenced dance tunes – the luxurious pulse of ‘Afrita’ is the EP’s standout.

In a more club-oriented vein, Acid Arab are back with their follow-up to 2016’s Musique de France. The sound on Jdid is tougher and terser and builds from the moody shuffle of ‘Staifia’ to the more full-on acid of ‘Was Was but rounding off with a glorious electro flourish on ‘Malek Ya Zahri’, featuring vocalist Cheikha Hadjla. Algerian guests include previous collaborator Sofiane Saidi, Radia Menel, Amel Wahby, and there’s also Niger’s Les Filles d’Illighadad and Syrian keyboard player Rizan Said in this pan-national line-up. Saidi contributes to one hip-swaying highlight, ‘Rimitti Dor’, and Belgo-Tunisian producer Ammar 808 to another, ‘Rajel’, which pairs probing bass, handclap, electronic swooshes and those familiar, microtonal clarion calls summoning revellers to the floor.

TripleGo - Yeux Rouge
(Twareg)

I could easily be accused of being obsessed with one French rap act at the expense of all others, and that wouldn’t be entirely unfair. I do regularly feature music from other rap artists in the mix that goes with this column, reflecting the fact that it’s often individual tracks rather than full-length releases that are making an impact on me. But TripleGo have just dropped their second album of 2019 so that now makes two releases battling it out in my favourites of the year. Why has their sound chimed with me so much? They’re more pared down in their approach than the sometimes brilliant, sometimes over-rich and glutinous PNL; they deep-mine their sinuous seam, tweaking and honing within narrow constraints. And when those constraints are loosened, it’s to stunning effect - Yeux Rouge’s scope is broader than that of Machakil, with the eerily sliding synth pads of ‘Dior’, the decidedly pre-trap ‘Pushka’, their most pop moment to date ‘Marrakech’, the Cuban-flavoured ‘Dans Ma Folie’ and the shimmering, mirage-like ‘Nabilla’. Credit to beatmakers Momo Spazz and guest producers for upping the productions ante, and rapper Sanguee for finding new nuances in his auto-tuned vocals. Just hook it to my veins, as they say.

Quietus Mix 19

Arlt – ‘Les Fleurs’ (Objet Disque)
France Sauvage – ‘Mec Mec’ (In Paradisum)
Tachycardie – ‘Aunir, Forcer’ (Un Je Ne Sais Quoi)
Super Parquet – ‘JMD 134’ (Pagans)
La Féline – ‘La Terre Entière’ (Kwaidan)
Neue Grafik Ensemble – ‘Voodoo Rain ft Nubya Garcia’ (Total Refreshment Records)
Erotic Market – ‘May I’ (N/A)
Acid Arab – Club DZ (Crammed Discs)
Mauvais Oeil – ‘Afrita’ (Entreprise)
TripleGo – ‘Russie’ (Twareg)
Qoso – ‘Tabi Shoes’ (The Trilogy Tapes)
Oiseaux-Tempête – ‘We, Who Are Strewn About In Fragments’ (Sub Rosa)
Accident Du Travail – ‘B1 aka La Reine’ (Vlek Records)

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