The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Rockfort! French Music For October By David McKenna
David McKenna , October 19th, 2020 08:53

David McKenna delves into new French folk sounds, cosmic synths, rising French-Algerian producer Sabrina Bellaouel – and an actual bunch of kids

Where has the year gone? Time has both massively accelerated and become the consistency of treacle – next column it’ll be the end-of-year list and I’m not entirely sure what the distance from here to there is going to feel like. Still, I’ll be happy to have these releases accompanying me through the remaining months, as well as the extra tracks I’ve included in the mix.

It kicks off with a number from a compilation of French bossa nova (Tchic Tchic) released a little earlier this year on venerable indie label Born Bad. There’s delightful new track, ‘Bot’, from a new La Féline EP that also includes a spacious cover of Pierre Vassilu’s ‘Alentour De Lune’, techno producer Qoso on the unimpeachable In Paradisum, and killer ‘frapcore’ from gabber producer Evil Grimace that features on a new compilation of hardcore French dance, NADSAT.

It uses vocal parts from ‘La Vie Qui Va Avec’ by Sefyu, who dropped other rap classics like ‘Molotov 4’ in the late noughties, was an Arsenal player until his career was curtailed by injury and – I think – once helped my ex-girlfriend with her luggage on a coach from Paris.

Also on the rap front there’s a sparkling new single from rapper Lala &ce, and a summer tune from 13 Block featuring Niska that is accompanied by one of most eye-popping videos I’ve seen all year.

Sabrina Bellaouel - We Don’t Need To Be Enemies

If this isn’t quite a total volte-face for French-Algerian Bellaouel’s, it certainly represents a striking departure for the producer. On previous releases, her artistry has been poured into vaporous (and excellent) R&B tunes like ‘Illusions’.

That sound isn’t entirely absent on this, her first release for the InFiné label, but tellingly ‘If’ is the briefest track, a little reminder of her past. That said, brevity is a feature across up this release, with even the title track – and centrepiece of the EP - clocking in at under four minutes; it invites you to absorb it in one go. Bellaouel has also stepped back from the role of singer (and lyricist for that matter), employing her voice as just another texture or compositional element.

‘Nasser’ opens with interlocking vocal snippets of Bellaouel’s own voice eventually half-buried under a recording of a speech by Egypt’s second president Gamal Abdel Nasser and unruly clumps snare. ‘La Chute’ is just a lovely minute of Bellaouel wordlessly harmonising with herself through effects, a beat arriving just before the end to lead us into the hard techno kick of ‘We Don’t Need To Enemies’. After ‘If’, ‘Pulse’ brings a warm drone, some distant rattling and a jazzy duet for trumpet and vocals. We Don’t Need To Be Enemies is rewarding and refreshing, and I suspect we’re still just scratching the surface of Bellaouel’s talent.

Les Loustics - Les Squelettes
(Disques Charivari)

Having attempted write a song with my nephew during lockdown V.1 (he presented me with super goth lyrics like, “In the dark we’re invincible but in the light we’re easily destroyed”), I have a little insight into the joys of making music with children. Les Squelettes goes considerably further though, a full album of songs for which Arlt’s Sing Sing has provided the texts, with Delphine Dora on piano and Dana Hilliot on guitar. Les Loustics (‘The Jokers’) themselves are Artense (age 7), Lucie (9) et Clément (12), with Artense and Lucie singing and playing keyboards, harmonica and violin, while Clément plays sax and all contribute “noises”.

Les Squelettes - ‘The Skeletons’, which feels like a very kid-centric title – was recorded in three very much pre-lockdown sessions (back in 2011 apparently so that would make Clément around 21 now), and are improvisations based around Sing Sing’s words. This open-ended approach to songwriting is obviously very much Delphine Dora’s speciality, but Sing Sing has also stressed that my previous interpretation of Arlt’s music through the lens of drunkenness misses the fact that it’s as much about a childlike approach to the world (and of course there’s some truth in the joke about children being like small drunk people). So Les Squelettes is a thoroughly charming, funny and even haunting collection - the title track is quite unsettling - of guided but untutored songs that cover the simple pleasures of running (‘Courir’), the tinkling ode to unruly hair replete with goat and pig noises (‘Mes Cheveux’) and feeling sad but not knowing why (‘Ce Matin J’Etais Triste Et Je Ne Savais Pas Bien Pourquoi’).

Terrine - Abolition Du Discernement
(Cold Moss)
Danse Musique Rhône-Alpes - Shit Forest

Claire Gapenne’s solo project as Terrine has progressed from guitar noise to the kind of electronic half-songs found on Abolition Du Discernement, but always with cruddy, distorted DIY production as a guiding principle, an article of faith. Everyone has the means now to not make music that sounds this raw – you do it because you love the unsettling immediacy and the bobbly, bitty, crackly surfaces. Abolition Du Discernement is also quite a neat collection, though, just six tracks including the crumbling lounge song ‘Lezard’, the stumbling, over-saturated funk of ‘Chantage’ and ‘Meme’s combo of almost plaintive, robotic vocals and an ominous, metallic beat like something off the Terminator 2: Judgement Day soundtrack. A deliciously coarse and tangy Terrine.

Tagged as “techno povera” and with that title, Danse Musique Rhône-Alpes’s Shit Forest appears to be coming from a similar place in terms of revelling in murk and muck. The moniker belongs to Loup Gangloff, who has featured in this column before as one half of drums-and-synths duo Deux Boules Vanille. Gangloff’s percussive skills and nous play a major part in driving these tracks, on which he uses prepared drums, marimba, clay pots and more in conjunction with synths and a drum machine and a groovebox. For all the love of unvarnished sound, Shit Forest is also rich and complex, with Gangloff sometimes recalling Shackleton with his grasp of rhythmic dynamics and timbre and warping of conventional dance music tropes.

Snowdrops - Volutes

Snowdrops are the duo of Ondes Martenot player Christine Ott – featured here back in April with her solo release Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot) – and Mathieu Gabry, together with guest viola player Anne-Irène Kempf. It’s their debut album but there’s no doubting their adeptness at creating lyrical pieces that don’t fall into Nils Frahm-like tepidness or the merely picturesque – the combination of strings, Ondes and Mellotron never sounds less than otherworldly. The duo’s name, rightly, paints a picture of wintry splendour and remote, icy expanses.

First single ‘Ultraviolet’ rests on initially tremulous Mellotron, traversed by viola and high-pitched trails of Ondes Martenot; if the eventual, blizzard-like swell feels inevitable it’s no less breathtaking for it. ‘Inception’ has nothing to do with the Christopher Nolan film (or its soundtrack), its rising chords pretty without being pompous. ‘Odysseus’ is, appropriately, the album’s epic, shifting from a groaning intro, through a Celtic waltz of sorts, and gradually winding its way towards another quietly majestic peak.

Jericho - De Dreit Nien
(La Nòvia)
Bégayer/Antoine Loyer & Mégalodons Malades - Sauce Chien Et La Guitare Au Poireau
(Le Saule/Gluck/Les Balades Sonores/Les Disques du Festival Permanent/Do It Youssef/Les Clampins D’Abord)

Regular readers will be aware of the La Nòvia collective, a hub for like-minded musicians reinventing regional folk repertoires, marrying traditional French song with minimalism via the use of drone – which is frequently provided by hurdy gurdy player Yann Gourdon (also a member of the brilliant France). Jericho is just one of many available permutations of La Nòvia members, with Gourdon joined by Clément Gauthier, Jacques Puech and Antoine Cognet – you could say it’s La Nòvia’s flagship, or super-group. There are no dramatic stylistic shifts here, this is a story of gradual evolution within parameters that Jericho, and La Nòvia, have set for themselves. That also applies to their interpretation of individual songs, which are largely traditional.

They can build from almost nothing to reach a furious, near-hallucinatory pitch, underpinned by Gourdon and driven higher by Cognet’s banjo and Gauthier and Puech’s cabrettes (Auvergnat bagpipes). Gauthier and Puech also sing in unison but drift marginally in and out of time with each other, creating a natural delay effect. Many of the songs slide into each other in long sequences, adding to the sense of disorientation; the one which runs from ‘Revenant Des Noces’ to ‘Trois Mariniers’ takes in both eerie, keening balladry and wild dances. When Jericho hit their stride at these moments – see also, especially, the glorious ‘Planh De la Madalena’ – they leave you feeling like you’re spinning forever, encircled by whirling bodies caught up in dancing mania.

Some Belgians – that’s Antoine Loyer & Mégalodons Malades – have special dispensation to appear in this column as they’ve teamed up with Bégayer for this split release (split not only between the two bands but six different labels). And since they’re here it must be said that their gently surreal folk/chanson is a delight. For their half of the record – an “album of friendship” – Bégayer come in hard with the fantastically titled ‘Il Y A D’Autres Chiens Rasés’ (‘There Are Other Shaved Dogs’), which is the trio at their most raucous and intense, a high-energy salvo of folk played with razor blades. ‘La Petite Fille Du Moderne’ and ‘Le Consentement’ alternate between downbeat balladry and sudden skronk-storms but on ‘Nevena’ they’re at their most tender and melodic, and accompanied at one point by a whining dog (or at the very least a sample of one).

Channel + - Mixtape
(Prix Libre)

Channel + formed in Rennes, Brittany three years ago and are the fusion of two bands called Culture Emotion and Ben & Tom, and are named after a strain of weed – the artwork, according to its designer Thibault Proux, is “a reappropriation of a DEA anti-marijuana woven patch.” Mixtape, recorded in a former agricultural facility in Rennes, doesn’t feature any track titles, or even individual tracks as such, just a jam – edited down and with disparate sections cross-faded into each other, as far as I can tell – spread over both sides of a tape. Given Channel + features a drummer from each of their constituent bands, it’s no surprise that Mixtape is so rhythmically assertive, switching between near-motorik furrows, full-pelt psych-garage rock and more jungle break-style beats and shot through with dreamy, savagely distorted or clangy and high-pitched guitar (there’s something of Big Black in the section towards the end of the first side) and wordless whoops and wailing but Side B begins with an ambient passage that’s like sunlight pouring in, and which widens out into iridescent dream pop. Try Channel +, and please do inhale.

Laura Perrudin - Perspectives & Avatars

Laura Perrudin’s third album opens with the questions “What is this thing called magic? What is this thing called art?”, a starting point for the exploration of the Perspectives & Avatars of the title, and she’s joined by an eclectic range of guests (and alter-egos perhaps) including the cosmic joker of French chanson, Philippe Katerine, Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi and Breton rapper Krismenn. With her almost old-time jazz voice, Perrudin could undoubtedly knock out standards or smoky pastiche if she wanted to. Fortunately her vision is far broader, even if anchored in jazzy pop and modern R&B.

Through the use of extended techniques her harp becomes a mini-orchestra – having seen her live on a couple of occasions I can confirm that her instrument, in combination with effects, provides the fuzzy basslines and the bumps, clicks and taps of percussion as well as the more expected ripples and celestial plunking. The elegance of her songwriting is always counterpointed by an unusual and very personal sound-palette, one which can stretch to the kind of scabrous noise you’d also find on the Terrine album.

Jonathan Fitoussi - Plein Soleil
(Transversales Disques)
Pointe Du Lac - LP2

Two releases of the relatively cosmic, analogue synthy variety. Jonathan Fitoussi is one of the leading exponents of this kind of work in France, making use of Buchlas, Moogs, the EMS Synthi AKS and more. The coordinates are clear from the titles ‘Oceans’, ‘Rayons Solaires’ (sunbeams), ‘Totale Eclipse’ and so on; it feels like library music composed with documentaries about the natural world in mind. There are no major surprises, it’s just as warm and bright as you’d expect, but ‘Amazonie’ stands out for its insect-like motion and those almost sticky Buchla tones.

Pointe Du Lac is the duo of Richard Frances – who also records under names including Acid Fountain and founded the Hylé label – and Julien Lheuillier, named the eastern terminus of Line 8 on the Paris Métro. Their motorik beats and pastel coloured synths have always been pleasing, but LP2 feels like an altogether more confident beast, filled out by vocal contributions from former Konki Duet member Kumi Okamoto (aka Kumisolo), who provides some Japanese spoken word for the Schubert quoting ‘リラマン / Der Leiermann’, and sax player Quentin Rollet. ‘There Is Always A Waterfall At The End Of A Machine’. Tracks like ‘Program 3.14’ still glide beautifully, almost effortlessly, but I’m equally up for the acid-y energy of ‘Miyopo’ and the throbbing funk of closer ‘Holo-Épiphyte/ Trains, Montagnes, Forêts, Banana!’, which is where Rollet lays down some trilling – and thrilling – soprano and alto sax

Quietus Mix 23

Sylvia Fels – ‘Corto Maltese’ (Born Bad)
Terrine – ‘Lezard’ (Cold Moss)
Lala &ce – ‘Sp&cial’ (&ce Recless)
Danse Musique Rhône-Alpes – ‘Ocarina Belt’ (Kythibong)
Jonathan Fitoussi – ‘Amazonie’ (Transversales Disques)
La Féline – ‘Bot’ (Kwaidan)
Snowdrops – ‘Ultraviolet’ (Injazero) Channel + – Excerpt from Mixtape (Prix Libre)
Jericho – ‘Lo Mestre’ (La Nòvia)
Bégayer – ‘Il Y A D’Autres Chiens Rasés’ (Le Saule/Gluck/Les Balades Sonores/Les Disques du Festival Permanent/Do It Youssef/Les Clampins D’Abord)
Qoso – ‘Rue’ (In Paradisum)
Evil Grimace & Sefyu – ‘Délinquance’ (Nadsat/Because)
Sabrina Bellaouel – ‘We Don’t Need To Be Enemies’ (InFiné)
13 Block feat Niska – ‘Tieks’ (Elektra France)
Laura Perrudin – ‘Well They Lied’ (Volatine)
Pointe Du Lac – ‘There Is Always A Waterfall At The End Of A Machine’ (Alpage)
Les Loustics – ‘Courir’ (Disques Charivari)