France

REVIEW: Colleen - A flame my love, a frequency

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Laura Kerry

A flame my love, a frequency, the new full-length by Colleen (AKA Cécile Schott), is an album of transformations. A composer who has favored the viola de gamba (and other baroque instruments) with touches of electronic processing in her previous six albums, she makes the leap in her new work to fully electronic instrumentation.

Her seventh album emerged out of another shift that occurred over the course of a single day in Paris. Now based in Spain, Schott had returned to her former home in France for a visit in November 2015, where she saw a lovely scene of people enjoying the afternoon. Later that night, the same scene transformed into a scene of terror with the coordinated attacks that took place at cafes, bars, and a stadium and concert venue.

Though a heavy, despairing sound might seem a natural response to such an event, Colleen’s A flame my love, a frequency is remarkably light. Delicate and based on suggestion rather than profusion, the album seems to capture the ominous glow of the afternoon before the terror more than its mournful aftermath. It opens with “November,” the briefest and sparsest track, built on a single, twinkling synth voice that flutters forward for a phrase, then pauses. With that, the album promises a space for reflection.

It delivers throughout the seven spacious and beautiful songs that follow. “Separating” smolders with an eery intensity as Schott’s quiet, patient vocals echo over dainty synth lines that form a full orchestra in the gaps between them. “Another world” subtly radiates sadness and surprise as a low, resonant synth pulses and brighter voices dance in the foreground. In “The stars vs creatures,” a warm synth waltzes in pretty arpeggios, haunting with simplicity and a touch of otherworldly delay, before making way for a muted drone later on. Though the artist has replaced classical instruments with Critter and Guitari synthesizers and a Moog filter, she hasn’t completely abandoned them; from the piano sounds on “November” to the mallet-like voices on “The stars vs creatures” and string tones on “Winter dawn,” Schott draws so much warmth and depth out of her electronic palette that it’s easy to forget it comes from a series of circuits. For an album voiced by machines, A flame my love, a frequency maintains an abundance of human feeling.

And for an album influenced by loss, that human feeling maintains an impressive degree of levity. Instead of focusing on the shock of terror itself, Schott seems more concerned with the dissonance between beauty and horror. As she sings in “Winter dawn,” while a low synth pulses in an almost cheery rhythm, “The world had nearly ended yet the sky was blue.” Even after the worst event, beauty can persist. Anyone who listens to Colleen’s new album can attest to that.

REVIEW: El Ayacha - Unseen

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Raquel Dalarossa

Pierre Dennebouy is a musician from a small town in France. His project El Ayacha is named after a small town in Tunisia. His music seems to live in neither place—El Ayacha’s debut EP, Unseen (sung entirely in English), provokes a subtle sense of longing and displacement through four evocative tracks.

The group has been touring since this past spring and have already nailed down a signature sound. Mixing cold guitars and booming drums, courtesy of band members Gildas Lemardelé and Adrien Leprêtre, El Ayacha incorporate both a lot of noise and a lot of space. Dennebouy’s vocals are a low and steady anchor, and he sings in an unaffected tone through lines like “I live in a city / Made of fiction” (“Bored”).

It’s a musical aesthetic that takes after post-punk, but often the effortless catchiness of the melodies here—whether they’re presented upfront or buried among some more abstract instrumental explorations—recall the kind of feel-good poignance of ‘90s pop-rock. There’s something familiar about these chord progressions which makes the music immediately appealing and easy to return to again and again. “Maria” is the most obvious example of this; it’s an instrumental track with an upbeat guitar riff that resonates without trying. It seems to pass by quickly, ending before you’re ready to let it go.

And such is the way of the entire EP. Unseen is a thoroughly enjoyable listen that leaves you hoping a full length will soon be on its way.

REVIEW: Decibelles - Tight

Laura Kerry

By some accounts, the Lyon, France-based band Decibelles met in 2014. By others, it was 2015 or 2016, but in any case, the group began a handful of years ago, when its founding members were teenagers. Now in their mid-to-late twenties and several albums into making music together, the experience is evident. In their new album, Tight, the trio—now comprised of Sabrina Duval, Fanny Bouland, and newest member Lamson Nguyen—Decibelles shows off their style of pop and punk with a dynamism and bravado that speaks to a sense of ease.

From the first feedback-heavy notes on the LP, Decibelles make their presence known. The opener, “Mess,” is aptly named; it floods the ears with fuzzed-out and screeching guitars, crashing drums, and screaming vocals reminiscent of the bite of Bikini Kill Kathleen Hanna and the yelp of Le Tigre Kathleen Hanna. Throughout the album, the trio uses their guitars as expressively as they use their voices. Guitars shriek, hang in suspense, and drive aggressively. In “Pas Les Humains,” an interlude of sorts, people fade into the distance as glitchy, indecipherable speech, leaving layers of instruments to forcefully propel the listener into the second half of the album.

Beside the assertive guitars and dynamic yelling exists a lighter, poppier strain that runs through Tight. Counter to the opening song’s title, the album’s name also represents it well. Decibelles makes tight, well-crafted music that takes care with its melodies and their underlying compositions. After “Mess” comes “Super Fish,” comprised of a brighter, more rigidly-structured sound. Reaching Strokes-level fuzz, the guitars set the tone for a clearer, airier track. “Sausage Day,” “Le Seum,” and “Witchy Babes” also favor a sparser, plainer tone with more more pop sentiments. Though production sometimes feels thin on these quieter tracks, they allow Decibelles to achieve an overall balance on the album, alternating between total submersion in noise and breaths of fresh air.

While they mix in brighter, gentler sounds amid the aggression, Decibelles is anything but soft in their sentiments. At the center of Tight are proclamations of independence, empowerment, and general feminist badassery. In “Sausage Day,” they dismiss the complaints lodged against women’s appearances, singing, “Your skirt is too tight / Your clothes don't fit you right / They say they are looking for romance... / I just want to dance.” In “Hu! Hu!,” a propulsive song structured around repeated yelps, the singer repeats, “Are you kidding me?” Later, she challenges, “Do you think I’m your damn secretary / Do you expect me to make your coffee / You’re not my daddy.” Like riot grrrls who came before them, Decibelles use a punk platform to tackle what’s on their minds, not only singing about their boldness, but also enacting it with their sound. “Should I be scared of the night?” Decibelles repeat in “Hu! Hu!,” but after a listening to their easy, fun, and striking new album, it’s hard to imagine that they fear anything.

REVIEW: Karaocake - Here and Now

Kelly Kirwan

“I let my youth slip / I let my youth go / Can we go back in time / When we took things slow?”

A deep unfolding synth surrounds the lyrics, a crinkling wave that washes across Karaocake’s opening track on their latest album, Here and Now. Camille Chambon’s voice cuts through the melody—with all its blips of futuristic synth and the digitized likeness of an organ—in a nonchalant, monotone pitch. "Youth Slip" is a backwards glance that teeters between nostalgia and an apathetic understanding of how the past is written in stone. It plays on an old adage, that youth is wasted on the young, with somber, chamber-pop flourishes and some avant-garde garnishes.

It’s no wonder that this is our first taste of the duo’s new work (with Stéphane Laporte as Karaocake’s other half), which explores our relationship to time—it’s constraints, and how it bends with our perception. "Youth Slip" is a song that longs for what was, and it’s no surprise that its accompanying video is cobbled together from long-held VHS footage, panning between a group of boys jamming together with a silly demeanor.

"Mother of it all" opens with a stream of static, drawn with misty, '80s-influenced synths and a quick-footed beat. Chambon’s voice is softer than it was in "Youth Slip," fleshed out with a bit more intonation as the beat chugs along, arcade-inspired beeps skittering (subtly) in the background. “Nothing could be said or could be done / Now I know you’re gone / You, the mother of it all,” we hear as the melody builds, and there’s a distinct feeling of forward motion.

"Mothers & Fathers" serves as an ode to (yes, you guessed it) our parents. It’s a slower, softer song, with light, swerving synths and still more space-age, computerized bleeps dotting the melody. "Sometimes they fail / To be what is expected of them / Don’t regret the things you’ve done … There’ll be time for us to heal, I’m sure.” It’s a heartfelt letter from child to parent, and the lyrics have a bit of an edge while still being softened with forgiveness.

Here and Now is a tightly-crafted album. The music matches the geometry of the album art, comprised of neat intersections that feel like an interdimensional maze. I recommend you explore it.

REVIEW: Good Morning TV - Good Morning TV

Kelly Kirwan

Bérénice Deloire has a softly-sighing voice, weaving it’s way across a dream-pop landscape. It's a kind of hypnotic undulation to which we’re lightly tethered, even as swarms of reverb add a touch of grit to the mirage that is Good Morning TV. Originally the independent project of our aforementioned French chanteuse, Deloire’s delicate voice was given the flourish of a full band with the gentle steering of producer (and audio mixer) Brad Bouveret.

The elements of psychedelia and shoegaze, which are Good Morning TV’s mainstays, create a nice point of tension throughout their four-track debut. Deloire maintains her breathy pitch as guitar notes stretch to a nasally edge, as if threatening to teeter off-key, while their amps fill with feedback from these fuzzy lines. It’s an ethereal atmosphere mixed with intermittent clouds of distortion, a dreamy form of consciousness that isn’t too far gone down into the realm of la-di-da.

Take "Advice for a Lonesome Boy," which begins and ends with an easy shuffle, garnished by off-kilter sounds like a low-floating wah-wah and a deep, growl-like rumbling—as if our antenna went askew and our signal was filled with an almost predatory static. Deloire’s voice enters roughly halfway through, pixie-like and layered. Her words blur together, light as a feather and lost in a rolling enunciation, but we’re still able to catch pieces of the advice promised by the title with an attentive ear ("And if you feel alone / And you just need a friend / I’ll be there") before she slips away, the beat inflating and then falling back into it’s initial, calmer step. It's as if Deloire were simply a figment in this varied spectrum of emotions, a whisper heard in moments of misshapen melody and stormy sentiment. 

The EP’s opener, "Ordinary People," thrives off piquant notes which seem to break off from their guitar and live on in spirals. Deloire’s lofty tone has the gentle lure of a siren’s song, which feels all the more apt when replaying her opening line, “And if you come closer,” which, of course, we do. How can we resist the hazy tranquility her trill offers? “Every time you leave me / I just get down on my knees,” Deloire implores, her words once against seeping into one another, as her lyrics nearly slip into the rough patches of the melody. This is Good Morning TV’s M.O.: a thrashing of instruments that thrive off a rough touch, and Deloire’s serene, breezy delivery as the eye of the storm.

Released under Requiem pour un twister, Good Morning TV’s first EP is a blend of lullaby singing and stormy instrumentals, an uncanny version of pop-rock that gets its claws in us quick. It exists in a state of checks and balances between lighter notes and darker, heavier backdrops, and we’re happy to have our attention and moods rock between these two facets. You will be too.