Rockfort! The Best French Music Of 2019 Rounded Up By David McKenna

2019 was double in quality when it came to French music... which is why David McKenna's doubled the length of his end of year top ten

This is the first year I’ve done a Rockfort Top 20 rather than picking just ten. It’s been a struggle for several years now to whittle down the releases but this time it felt impossible to do justice to 2019 without going a little further. It’s also the first time I’ve included two releases by the same act – Parisian rap duo TripleGo – whose Yeux Rouges tops my list for this year.

As I mentioned in my November column, with French rap it’s often individual tracks that have hit home – from the likes of Luc Resval, Lala &ce, Junior Bvndo and Freeze Corleone – from artists who are frequently track and mixtape-oriented. It can also be the case that when not fully versed and immersed in a scene, as is my situation with French rap, you fixate on one act at the expense of all others. This can, quite reasonably, be seen as tokenistic but perhaps it’s as much about having a haven and a beacon while you’re still trying to find your own way through the territory. Anyway there’s no doubt in my mind that the current French rap landscape merits our serious attention beyond the most prominent figures like PNL (who I like approximately half the time).

All that said, TripleGo’s sound, a particularly atmospheric take on trap (in France they’re sometimes referred to as belonging to the cloud rap genre) has got under my skin like no other. In fact, it seems designed to do just that. I’ve been dismissive of the attempts to link the music of the number two album in this year’s list, Félicia Atkinson’s intimately involving The Flower And The Vessel, to ASMR but something about the interaction between the grain of Sanguee’s voice and autotune – climaxing in almost choral-sounding harmonies on Yeux Rouges’s opening track ‘Dior’, for example – that seems to set off tingling paraesthesia.

As the album’s title – ‘Red Eyes’ – suggests, this is also deeply stoned music, and for all that Yeux Rouges and Machakil feature a good deal of terse or anxious reflections on amorous or commercial transactions (which sometimes feel interchangeable), the overriding sense is of fluidity, like you’re floating into a drug and/or insomnia-induced state (“y a pas plus noir que mes nuits blanches” – “there’s nothing blacker than my sleepless nights” – on Machakil’s ‘Habeeba’) that’s both foggy and extra lucid.

At the same time, sensuous wisps of North African melody, harmony and percussion rise up through the tracks like a deep, insistent yearning. Simon Reynolds has written recently about the internationalisation of trap, of not only the beat but the “peculiarly indefinite affect that its glazed texture embodies” and the use of Autotune to create “blissful trills and moans that sound as ornamented as Arab music.” Both observations fit TripleGo like a pair of tailored gloves – in fact the second point is literalised in their hands.

On a personal note, this year I’ve taken the column out into the wild and begun promoting Rockfort live shows. The first one this year, at the brilliant Iklectik near Waterloo, featured Léonore Boulanger (number three in the list below) and Glaswegian troubadour Howie Reeve. If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, the events will be continuing with rugged avant-folk trio Bégayer and Clémentine March’s idiosyncratic guitar pop at New River Studios on 10th January. If you’re interested in what happens next, you can keep up on the latest here on Facebook and here on Twitter.

Until next year then, and a joyeux Noël et bonne année in the meantime.

Rockfort Albums of the Year 2019

TripleGo – Yeux Rouges(Twareg)

Arriving in November and still one of the albums I’ve listened to most this year. This is perhaps the more consistent and varied of the two albums TripleGo have put out thus year, but not by much.

Félicia Atkinson – The Flower And The Vessel (Shelter Press)

The co-founder of the Shelter Press label and imprint goes from strength to strength. A record to remind you that life goes in within you and without you.

Léonore Boulanger – Practice Chanter (Le Saule)

The inheritor of Brigitte Fontaine’s torch. Practice Chanter is complex and multi-faceted but also a joyful, hugely expressive and light on its feet.

Pixvae – Cali (Buda Musique/Bongo Joe)

A fantastically elastic and energising fusion of jazz-rock, hardcore and Colombian currulao.

Arlt – Soleil Enculé (Objet Disque)

Lackadaisical on the surface, Arlt’s is erudite, cultured, witty but also the most moving album of underground chanson produced this year.

La Féline – Vie Future (Kwaidan)

Agnès Gayraud meditates on birth, death, individual and collective fates. Atmospheric, textured production coats her best collection of left-field pop songs to date.

Bess Of Bedlam – Folly Tales (Outré)

From the UK label that has also brought us releases from Juniore and the also-excellent Grand Veymont, Bess Of Bedlam’s acid folk stands out for its gorgeous sense of melody and off-kilter song structures.

Neue Grafik – Foulden Road EP (Total Refreshment Records)

The new London jazz thing absorbed and mapped out by the Parisian producer and instrumentalist, focused around the place at the heart of it all.

Jessica Ekomane – Multivocal (Important Records)

Beautiful minimalism from the France-born, Berlin-based producer and sound-artist. Ideally experienced in a quadrophonic sound, its two tracks – based on the simplest of building blocks – nevertheless tease and entrance in stereo.

Super Parquet – S/T (Pagans)

Experimental folk from a group that find a way to bring traditional instrumentation and techno together in a manner that not only isn’t teeth-grindingly awful but is also heart-bustlingly lyrical and rousing.

The Next Ten:

Tomaga & Pierre Bastien – Bandiera Di Carta (Other People)

Mohamed Lamouri & Groupe Mostla – Underground Raï Love (Almost Musique)

TripleGo – Machakil (Twareg)

Jac Berrocal, David Fenech, Vincent Epplay – Ice Exposure (Blackest Ever Black)

France Sauvage – L’Homme À Zéro (In Paradisum)

Black Zone Magick Chant – Voyage Sacrifice (Shelter Press)

Laure Briard – Un Peu Plus D’Amour S’il Vous Plaît (Midnight Special)

Le Groupe Obscur – Selesȼa EP (Midnight Special)

Le SuperHomard – Meadow Lane Park (Elefant)

Tsirhaka Harrivel & Vimala Pons – Victoire Chose (Teenage Menopause)

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