Rockfort! French Music For June Reviewed By David McKenna

David McKenna leads us through all of this month's music from outside of the French mainstream

This missive from the French fringes kicks off with further proof that Félicia Atkinson and Bartolomé Sanson’s Shelter Press – a publisher and a label – is compiling one of the most singular and fascinating catalogues in France. Meanwhile, UK-based Outré continues to be a reliable outlet for charming French releases – Bess of Bedlam follows albums, previously covered here, by Juniore and Grand Veymont, and there are two more samples of the kind of jazz-rock-noise brews being served up by French collectives, with both Tripes and Hippie Diktat emerging from Collectif COAX.

The latest Rockfort mix includes highlights from progressive/psych trio Nour’s Vain, Bleak and Iconic, the debut album from rapper Junior Bvndo, Direct T’es Refait and the second EP from Dame Civile – brothers Killian and Marvin from Noisy Le Sec in the eastern suburbs of Paris, as well a killer track from France’s reigning champion of Dancehall King Doudou, Jardin’s anti-capitalist hip-hop-meets-Europop and a wonderfully lysergic guitar and electronics jam from French Loatian artist Ayankoko.

Félicia Atkinson – The Flower and the Vessel (Shelter Press)

Black Zone Magick Chant – Voyage Sacrifice (Shelter Press)

Mondkopf – How Deep Is Our Love? (Hands In The Dark)

ASMR is being mentioned increasingly in relation to Félicia Atkinson’s releases thanks to the whispered, spoken vocals and prevalence of sounds that tickle your ears. ‘You Have To Have Eyes’ on her new album The Flower And The Vessel, to take one example, glides in a low hum and snatches of bird song, and builds in rustling, creaking, footsteps and a wet slapping sound that serves as percussion for a while until it’s replaced by loops of re-pitched vocals that writhe and slither around each other. But it would be hugely reductive to suggest that Atkinson’s music is fashioned purely to create ‘tingles’ – for starters, it can be a little too spooky at times to inspire unadulterated feelings of wellbeing and calm, but also because emotionally and sonically it delves considerably deeper than that.

The Flower and the Vessel, though, is warmer and more richly variegated than its predecessor Hand In Hand, which frequently felt hermetically sealed, airlocked. It was recorded in various locations around the world while Atkinson was touring, and pregnant – she says that it’s “a record not about being pregnant but a record made with pregnancy.” At times this surfaces quite explicitly in the lyrics; on the 19-minute closer ‘Des Pierres’, a collaboration with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley (his guitar crackles into life half way through), it’s possible to catch the detached, almost diagnostic phrase “une femme s’aperçoit qu’elle est enceinte” (a woman realises that she’s pregnant) amid the vocal lines overlapping each other as they spring from opposite sides of the stereo field.

But it’s also there in the greater presence of natural sounds, the space filled out by field recordings captured in locations ranging from the Mojave Desert to Tasmania. The sense of being not only a creator but being plugged into creation itself on a cosmic scale ripples through it. In a different register, the theme will be picked up on La Féline’s new album Vie Future later this year.

BZMC’s Maxime Primault has swapped his usual ‘Myth’ for ‘Magick’ on Voyage Sacrifice, comprised of three expansive, dark ambient tracks. It was apparently recorded “in altered states of consciousness”- nicely euphemistic language there! Like The Flower And The Vessel it’s deeply immersive, but the visions it conjures are frequently more disconcerting. Primault hasn’t lost his taste for the darkly ritualistic, and other trademarks are still in place from the Black Zone Myth Chant releases, particularly the pitched-down vocals; they occupy the low ground on first track ‘Lightless Mountain’ like a knot of grumbling toads. The albums three phases feel like arrival, ceremony – on ‘Incineration Of Thoughts’ chimes swirl and dissolve, breaking into a shower of metallic droplets, and the incantations come to the fore – before running water heralds some kind of peace or enlightenment on the mammoth ‘Where Will We Meet When Our Ashes Are Spread To The Wind / Crystal Monastery’. There, finally, spiralling synth-flutes and sparkling arpeggios lift you out of the gloom. In some senses it’s a very familiar (even mythical) path, but one traced with enough conviction for Voyage Sacrifice to genuinely alter your consciousness for a while.

There are more epic electronics on Paul Régimbeau aka Mondkopf’s first release for the very fine Hands In The Dark label which, as well as work by fellow French acts like Saåd, Egyptology and Jonathan Fitoussi has put out recordings by Housewives and Tomaga. How Deep Is Our Love? is intended as the soundtrack to a film adaptation by Paris-based Romanian filmmaker Diana Vidrascu of Kafka’s posthumously published short story ‘The Silence Of The Sirens’. The story is a retelling of Ulysses’ encounter with the Sirens in the Odyssey, in which they fall silent rather than trying to lure him to his death with their song. It’s not clear whether the titles here (‘Last Day On Earth, ‘Growing’, ‘Death Is Not A Lover’ and ‘Inner Fire’) bear any relation to Kafka’s story or even Homer’s poem, although ‘Death Is Not A Lover’ echoes Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ and its “Or should I lie with death my bride” line, and ‘Inner Fire’ opens with the sound of waves breaking. It seems likely that he’s fashioned his own, separate narrative for this album release. How Deep Is Our Love? is certainly beguiling though, and despite the length of its four tracks it demonstrates Régimbeau’s increasing taste for restraint, a muted grandeur that doesn’t tip over into pomposity. If these assemblages of glowing, elegantly evolving drones and pulses are monumental, they’re like monuments seen only in outline or as afterimages.

Bess Of Bedlam – Folly Tales (Outré)

So it turns out fledgling UK label Outré doesn’t just do French releases – The Shining Levels’ The Gallows Pole, inspired by the Ben Myers novel of the same name, could hardly be more British. Folly Tales bridges the gap in a way. Lyon resident Fanny L’Héritier and member of Odessey And Oracle – a band not coy about their Zombies-worship – has called herself Bess Of Bedlam for this first solo release although her own surname is splendid in itself (it means heir). Bedlam was Bethlehem Royal Hospital, Britain’s first psychiatric institution and the inspiration for Mad Bess in Henry Purcell’s song ‘From Silent Shades And The Elysian Groves’, published in 1683. It’s one of a numerous ‘mad songs’ of the Restoration which depict women driven insane by thwarted love; some, like John Eccles’ ‘I Burn, My Brain Consumes To Ashes’, have fantastically black metal-ish titles.

As Bess, L’Héritier has more recent, but still British, musical inspirations – British folk singers like Vashti Bunyan and Shirley Collins – while retaining features of Odessey and Oracle’s baroque pop.

The first side of Folly Tales occasionally seems as though it’ll tip into cloying jauntiness but unexpected turns of phrase – “how can you believe all that shit” on ‘The Poet’ – and quirky changes keep things beautifully poised. L’Héritier likes to conclude songs by locking into a particularly delicious chord progression, embellishing it further with keyboards and harmonies each time round, drawing you deeper into the spiral. The second side takes a more sinister and complex turn on the likes of ‘Dead Leaf’ and ‘From Silent Shades’, which specifically references Purcell’s work while twisting its way through several distinct settings, and concludes with a delay-heavy cover of Catherine Ribeiro & 2Bis’s disturbing ode to derangement ‘Un Sourire, Un Rire, Des Éclats’. Héritier’s honeyed voice ensures that it slips down like sweet poison.

Tshegue – Telema EP (Ekler’o’shock)

A second EP to follow up 2017’s Survivor, Tshegue’s Telema EP is five more tracks – including a DJ Marfox remix – that pack garage rock, desert blues and Afropop into fierce and often frenetic grooves. It’s the product of a very French hook-up (see also Kokoko!): singer and frontwoman Faty Sy Savanet, who moved from the Congolese capital Kinshasa to Paris with her family when she was eight, and French-Cuban producer and percussionist Nicolas Dacunha. (It’s not such an unexpected combination, though, given that Congolese popular music, and rumba in particular, is born of a musical dialogue with Cuba). Faty’s musical development saw her performing with a rock band and, unexpectedly, being mentored by pop sophisticate Bertrand Burgalat.

‘Solola’ is a rollicking start, all thunderous drums and rockabilly twang, but it feels relatively retro compared to the clipped, clanging minimalism of ‘The Wheel’. It’s a percussive masterclass with Faty’s booming voice another cog in the rhythmic machine. ‘Telama’ takes the band closer to desert-pop of Imarhan, and on ‘M’Benga Bila’ (‘Call the cops!’ apparently) Faty’s still singing in brief, punchy phrases but surrounded now by bright synth patterns and riding a rhythm that seems indebted to ‘soukous’, a style descended from Congolese rumba and which gets its name from the French word “secouer” – to shake.

Hypo – Domino Cascade (Powdered Hearts)

Hypo – Defectrotron EP (Self-released)

The first new music from Anthony Keyeux since 2017’s Hippo EP includes a full album on Missouri label Powdered Hearts as well as a bonus four-track EP. Keyeux describes Domino Cascade as “quite a sad album”, with the title a reference to several friends who have died one after another in recent years. Hypo’s productions have tended to contrast humour and mournfulness anyway, the influence of The Cure and other 80s gloom merchants never too far away – ‘Communionn’ is a “total goth track” that teases a good deal of pathos out of choral samples, snippets of film soundtracks and Romy Schneider singing “un oiseau” in ‘La Chanson D’Hélène’, a heartrending duo with Michel Piccoli, while the miniature ‘Bassyboo’ is a homage to Disintegration.

But aside from the (quite understandable) sadness and some typically, awkwardly graceful synth wavey tracks like ‘Milou’, there’s a real vitality and some unexpected new moves on display as well. ‘Voodoo Job’, featuring EDH on saxophone, is a thumpingly, skronkily danceable opener; given that it contemplates the viability of suicide, the title track – with vocals from gravel-voiced chansonnier Arne Vinzon – is a surprisingly blissful hip hop lollop; the dream pop ‘A Soap To Decay’, with vocals from The Konki Duet’s Tamara Goukassova, features on the album and in a lovely, pared-down version on the Defectrotron EP. Overall the EP is home to some of the loveliest, gentlest new tracks – ‘Ravalgom’ with its curlicues of accordion and the rippling synth harpsichord of ‘Roroman’.

Kompromat – Traum Und Existenz (Clivage Music)

The very deliberately German-sounding Kompromat are – surprise! – a French duo: Vitalic aka Pascal Arbez is probably still best loved for his Electroclash-era releases and remixes, particularly the ‘Poney’ EP and the Okay Cowboy album. On 2017’s lacklustre Voyager Arbez gave the impression that he’d run out of steam, but he seems to have rediscovered a sense of fun on this not-too-reverent tribute to Berlin. Maybe the choice of collaborator has helped: Julia Lanoé. Co-founder of brooding chanson-folk duo Mansfield TYA has already used the Rebeka Warrior pseudonym as half of the considerably more confrontational and blackly humorous Sexy Sushi, who were apparently yanked off stage at Camp Bestival one year for frightening the children.

Speaking of children, the album starts with Warrior accompanied by a group of kids singing (in French) “we’re going nowhere, we’re no-one”. For the rest she sings in German with, from what I can tell, an excellent accent, and is having an absolute ball on the pumping ‘Die Tausende Herbst’ and ‘Herztod’, which fling in considerable doses of industrial noise and berserk sequencer lines. There are times when Traum Und Existenz sounds not a million miles from Electroclash, but in a reenergised rather than just rehashed form.

The Dictaphone – How To Improve Your Relaxing (Un Je Ne Sais Quoi)

Jérémie Morin’s solo project has been a fixture of the French underground for the past ten years now. The essential, post punk/ DIY co-ordinates haven’t changed, the vocals still sounding like they were recorded on, well, a dictaphone, the tunes revolving around metronomic, Suicide-like rhythms, corroded synth sounds, fuzz bass and white noise. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for variety – last year’s Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, for instance, was a lo-fi cosmic synth excursion. How To Improve Your Relaxing is back to more familiar territory but it feels as though there’s a little added space and dynamism too. ‘Defeated All Chance Of A Successful Search’ builds up a neat, intricate percussive pattern, ‘Tropical Clapper’ climaxes with streaks of sax and string loops and there’s even a touch of Velvets/Modern Lovers on the cute ‘Cul De Sac’.

Hippie Diktat – Gran Sasso (Coax Records/Nunc/Potrage Records/Carton Records)

Tripes – Descendre, Inventrer (Gigantonium)

Hippie Diktat are a trio of drummer Julien Chamla (who also plays with Aquaserge and Tripes), guitarist Richard Comte and Collectif COAX’s artistic director Antoine Viard on baritone sax. Gran Sasso, their third album, is one track in four parts – ‘Part’ I is a stream of repetitive sax riffs, ringing chords and tight but nimble drumming. It’s difficult to be sure exactly where ‘Part II’ starts but probably where the trio bring things down to a simmer before climbing again, the sax rising and keening. From there ‘Part III’ builds in chunkier guitar and again reaches a pummelling climax on ‘Part IV’. It’s unshowy but not inelegant in its relentless focus.

Tripes are another trio, featuring Chamla, Julien Pontvianne on clarinet and Marco Quaresimin on double bass, plus a host of guests including Julien Gasc and Poulainjar members Léa Monteix and Fabien Gaston Rimbaud (it sounds like they all contribute vocals), former member Jean-Brice Godet, Finish artist Tuukka Haapakorpi and cellist Noémie Boutin . Descendre, Inventrer is a more introspective suite that seems concerned with the movement of a body in space – climbing, descending, taking your knee and sinking it into the mud, curling up into a ball. Everyone keeps their playing spare, Chamla with gentle cymbal washes and sparse pattern; Quaresimin repeating chords or hooks comprised of a few notes; and Pontvianne doubling vocals or laying down a bed of hiss and spittle, and when Boutin (I think) intervenes on ‘Desentrer’ she’s alone for several minutes. It’s all strikingly austere until the latter stages when on ‘Manie’ and particularly ‘Ora Incomincian Le Dolenti Note’ they summon up a wailing, clattering cacophony.

Quietus Mix 17

Tripes – ‘Monter’ (Gigantonium)
Félicia Atkinson – ‘L’Enfant Et La Poulpe’ (Shelter Press)
Bess Of Bedlam – ‘Shake! Witches Are Back’ (Outré)
Nour ‘Drab’ (Kythibong)
The Dictaphone – ‘Tropical Clapper’ (Un Je Ne Sais Quoi)
Hypo – ‘Voodoo Job’ (Self-released)
Ayankoko – ‘Molam 9’ (Chinabot)
Dame Civile – ‘Briller’ (Self-released)
Junior Bvndo ‘Dans L’appart’ (Panenka Music)
Tshegue – ‘M’Benga Bila’ (Ekler’o’shock)
King Doudou – ‘Toa ft. James Manuel’ (DSMG)
Jardin ‘One World One Shit feat. Mathilde Fernandez’ (Cultural Workers)
Kompromat – Le Goût Des Cendres (Clivage Music)
Black Zone Magick Chant – ‘Voyage Sacrifice’ (Shelter Press)

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