Friday, 5 October 2018

My 10 favourite French-language "pop" albums of the 00s - part 1 of 2

Those years 2000 to 2009 have been such a blast for French-language music, i had to rule out blue chips like Bashung, Keren Ann, Françoiz Breut, Miossec, Valérie Leulliot, Les Hurleurs, AS Dragon, Mathieu Boogaerts and many more. I also chose to focus on a more pop side, putting aside hip hop (Monsieur Saï, Psykick Lyrikah, Non-Stop, Rocé), noisy rock (Expérience, New Paulette Orchestra) and experimental music (Programme/Arnaud Michniak, or Zero Degré somewhere between post-rock, electronica and spoken word). Noir Désir's last and best album was somewhere in the middle and will be absent from that list as well. I hope you'll enjoy that short selection nonetheless !

Bonus : Vincent Delerm - Kensington Square (2004)

Not a fan of Delerm's successful Rive Gauche songwriting filled with intellectual name-dropping and humoristic overdescription of the daily routine of relationships, but between his piano-based first album and the more arranged pop songs of Les piqûres d'araignée, Kensington Square unveiled a sorrowful side still unmatched since in his music, influenced by Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy. Natation synchronisée, Deutsche Grammophon - a duet with the graceful actress Irène Jacob - and Veruca Salt et Frank Black (with Keren Ann and Dominique A - see the second entry of this 2-part selection) ensure the continuity of lightness and casualness but Le baiser Modiano whose string arrangements and lyrics would make a heart of stone break into tears, the jazzy and moody Évreux, Anita Pettersen and the painful title track Kensington Square remain the real highlights of this album and Delerm's entire discography.

10. Martin Angor - Martin Angor (2009)

Within that selection, this one probably has the most ties with Anglo-Saxon indie pop. Only solo LP from David Martin, former Lucie Cries (gothic coldwave) and C++ (retro Frenchpop with electronic sounds), Martin Angor mainly draws influences from the later (cf. Dans ta bouche), despite the use of post-punk drum machines and hypnotic basslines (Je suis en promotion). From the Epicurian existentialism of the acoustic lullaby Je voudrais quelque chose to the warlike romantic hit AK-47 with its flood of electric riffs, through the colourful predatory courtship of Le garçon, the album handles an absurd and crude poetry made of oniric recollections of childhood (the synthpop gem Mon vélo), bitterness of time passing (Les jours étranges) and decaying relationships (the cristalline and bittersweet twee pop of Si la lumière change), revealing sentimental and sexual ambiguities (Sombre disco) and resentment (the Gainsbourg-influenced closing track La femme transparente) without any modesty or shame, which is even more pleasing to hear nowadays.

9. Arnaud Fleurent-Didier - Portrait du jeune homme en artiste (2004)

Quite discrete for 8 years since the release of his latest album, the inconsistent but endearing La Reproduction (2009), bittersweet and sometimes ironic hymn to his family's philosophical genetics and their commonly dysfonctional communication, Arnaud Fleurent-Didier surfaced again last year as an actor playing his own self in the movie Bonheur académie for which he also composed the soundtrack. Listening to his previous and best release, Portrait du jeune homme en artiste, it would be easy to categorize the Parisian songwriter as the typical socially advantaged "bobo" artist struggling with wealthy young man's "problems" like self-image (Ce que les gens disent de moi), artistic success (the humorous Mon disque dort) and existential questioning (Vivre autrement). However, with his falsely light-hearted and deeply ill-fated acoustics, vocal harmonies and orchestrations inherited from Michel Legrand, his compelling rounded basslines and the heartbreaking desillusions hidden behind the fake candor of his lyrics (Le XXIème arrondissement de Paris), Fleurent-Didier, sincerely obsessed with art (Les poètes ont quitté Paris), French Touch synthetic vibes (Rock critique) and the politics of relationships (Je voterai pour toi), carries this haunting sense of daily life tragedy made of boredom (Emploi du temps), regret (En vieillissant peut-être) and fear of change (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en pleurs) able to transcend his vocal mannerism at all times.

8. Pierre Lapointe - La forêt des mal-aimés (2006)

Probably the only musician both still active and consistantly great on that entire list, the Quebecois songwriter even surpassed this second album and first masterpiece, with Punkt in 2013 maybe and most definitely with the shamelessly tormented and depressed La science du cœur last year. From orchestral soundtracks (the title track with its ghostly harmonies and twisted harpsichord nodding to Danny Elfman's gothic scores for Tim Burton's movies) to 60s french pop (Deux par deux rassemblés), from western folk (Au nom des cieux galvanisés and its Morricone-esque choir) to piano ballads (Tous les visages, Au 27-100 rue des Partances), from heartbreaking instrumentals (the interludes 25-1-14-14 and 25-1-14-14-16) to some kind of shapeshifting electronic retro-pop Bertrand Burgalat could have made (Qu’en est-il de la chance ?), La forêt des mal-aimés was back in 2006 my entry door to Lapointe's playful yet desperate songwriting and his quite bleak take on relationships. A personal classic.

My review in French at the time.

7. Julien Ribot - Vega (2008)

Ribot's previous concept album La métamorphose de Caspar Dix (2004), considered by many as his masterpiece, probably could have made that list, half the tracks already showcasing that unique blend of surreal romance, outer space melancholia and oniric maximalism, but i must admit being a little bit less fond of its funky synthetic side, compared to the perfect Vega, his third long play and last to date. Tangy female harmonies (Le rêve de Tokyo) and retro-futuristic bedroom pop arrangements (La chambre renversée) float above haunting piano melodies (1982), epic cavalcades (Vega Part. II) and comforting vocals (Les jardins de Boboli, fantastic duet where Julien Ribot and Annabelle Jouot's loving empathy allow them to sing what each other is feeling). Julien's voice is here as its greatest, purest, most natural bittersweetness (Nouveau chimpanzé), the instrumental interludes are either out-of-this world musical fairy tales (Interlude hypnotique) or heartbreaking piano laments (Musique pour un éventail qui bat au ralentit) and even the Gainsbourg-like emphasis of Amour City works as an irresistible ode to the ambiguous excesses of love.

6. Laurent Barbin - Depuis la chambre (2009)

Named after his short-lived label responsible for Martin Angor's eponymous album reviewed above, this first and last recording from French photographer, graphic designer and traveler Laurent Barbin remains the worthiest legacy Dominique A's lo-fi beginnings ever begetted. Dreary drum machines and naked idiphones, crude and opaque poems about couples' decline, depression and existential mess, a sorrowful and edgy voice singing over somber and minimalistic loops of electric guitars and electro-acoustic arrangements... Barbin's musical idiom is nonetheless far more personal and idiosyncratic than that, evoking at times some kind of folky drum'n'bass (Entre la cuisine et la chambre, Une photographie), syncopated slowcore (Les filles), morbid techno (Les amoureuses), diseased americana (L'île), glitched acoustics (La paix) or gothic trip-hop (La vie est belle and its short breaks of lyrical, Ratatat-friendly, synthetic guitars). A truely unique record, and definitely not a joyful one but in periods of need it beats a bottle of whisky every time.

My review in French at the time.

To be continued...

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