tremble clef

Friday, September 14, 2007

Benjamin Biolay, "Rendez-vous Qui Sait" (2007)

The lovely "Rendez-vous Qui Sait," a track from Trash Yéyé, the forthcoming album by the freshly-divorced Benjamin Biolay, makes me think of three or four other songs, and almost all the memories are pleasant.

It begins with a tinkling piano part that runs through the whole track; on the pre-chorus, the riff doesn't stop, but it does shift downwards a half-key. But if the song therefore sounds a bit like something Coldplay might produce, this specter is more than countered when the chorus rolls around and a beautiful trumpet comes in. The notes it plays are not quite from "Join Our Club," but there's a gorgeous whiff of Saint Etienne in the air. (It reminds me even more of The Cherry Orchard's "Roundabout," but no one will get that reference.) Since my mind is wandering anyway, and since Biolay often gets lined up next to his fellow countryman Etienne Daho, I'm also prompted by the trumpet to think about "La Baie" -- perhaps one of my favorite songs ever -- even though "Rendez-vous Qui Sait" is jauntier, less achingly sad than Daho's track. Not that "Rendez-Vous" is without its tinge of melancholy: on the chorus, Biolay begins to doubletrack his vocals. Everything comes together at that point -- the rueful voices, the lonely trumpet, the never-look-back piano, and even the synth hits that go plapt plapt plapt -- and, though it seems strange to say, the ghosts of all the other songs feel like they are simultaneously summoned and exorcized.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

W.I.T., "Just What I Needed" (2003)

In early October, Felix Da Housecat will release his third album, which makes this the perfect occasion to ask: oh my god, was it really only six or seven years ago when electroclash was all the rage? It feels like decades. All things considered, a good number of acts have survived that cultural moment when electroclash threatened to simply be a flavor of the month, if with diminished cachet (it's easy to forget, for instance that, with "Electrobix," Scissor Sisters was considered part of that scene).

W.I.T., on the other hand, never really got off the ground, which is a bit surprising given that they were the brainchild of electroclash's "founder," Larry Tee. The act is made up of three women: Melissa Burns, Christine Doza, and Mandy Coon. Melissa is the one with the Farrah do and blow-up doll mouth; Christine is the especially trannytastic one; and Mandy, according to the sleeve notes, doesn't actually sing on the record, although she would go on to provide some vocals for LCD Soundsystem (and handclaps on "Disco Infiltrator"!).

W.I.T. released one album whose title explains both the group's name as well as, one would assume, its ethos: Whatever It Takes. The Amazon marketplace has copies for a couple of bucks each, which is already more than what I found it for in a physical record store. The album is, um, worth that, certainly. It's a pretty fun record: the singing is never as sneery as Miss Kittin's, and the music leaned more towards synthpop than the harder sounds of some other electroclash acts.

My favorite track on the album is the band's superior cover of The Cars' "Just What I Needed." It's not as if the original wasn't already new wavy, but Larry Tee makes it even more so by jettisoning the chugging rhythm guitar and instead making the delicious synth riff the centerpiece of the song. Thus, after a bleepy intro, the girls asks, "Are you ready? Let's go!" And then the riff enters, making the most of its grand introduction. Furthermore, in both versions the riff is always played twice, but with a differing last note; in Ric Ocasek's original the first iteration ends with a "down" note before it comes back for a second go-round with an "up" one. W.I.T.'s version reverses that order, and the riff somehow sounds more ecstatic as a result. The only disappointing aspect of the remake lies in the way W.I.T. changed the couplet, "It's not the perfume that you wear/It's not the ribbons in your hair" to "It's not the clothing that you wear/It's not the perfume in your hair." I guess they did so because they would later name the song's addressee as a "boy," but it's not as if a man with perfume in his hair is any less queer than one with ribbons.

As a bonus, here's one more track from W.I.T. I enjoy: the album closer, "Inside Out." It's not a cover of the Odyssey song (Electribe 101 did that), but rather a Larry Tee original with spoken verses and a dreamy chorus (during which one of the girls almost sounds like she's singing, "I wet myself..." Fergalicious!).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Coldcut, "Autumn Leaves" (1993)

Of course autumn brings
A sense of melancholy.
Though, here, no leaves fall.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Club 8, "Jesus, Walk With Me" (2007)

The movie that terrified my friend and I when we saw it with a week or so ago was not a thriller, a horror flick, torture porn, or even some impossibly cute rom-com that filled the two of us with despair about ever finding someone to love. It was the documentary Jesus Camp.

For Jaz, the film turned out to be doubly traumatic; not only was she amazed by the level of fanaticism, denial, and hypocripsy on show in the flick, but some long repressed memory got awakened. " I haven't thought about this incident in ages, but I had this tuition teacher when I was a kid," she told me over post-movie coffee. "And one day, without telling my mom, she took me to church."

I asked her if she had to go through all the motions, like...I dunno, the eating of the wafer. Quite possibly I didn't even have my denominations right, but somehow it was the worst thing I could think of to have to mime, because doesn't swallowing the wafer when you didn't actually believe that it is the body of Christ lead to...some catastrophe? If not for you, then for the host? No? Or perhaps I was just thinking about wafers because we were having dessert with our coffee.

ANYWAY, Jaz claimed that it was long ago, and it was all a frightening blur. "But here's the thing I do remember," she said. "After the service the tutor gave me a bag of pamphlets. When I got home, I was really scared, and I didn't feel like I could tell my mom about any of it for some reason. And so I just shoved that entire backpack under my bed and tried to forget about it."

"It's probably still there," I said helpfully, "unless it's been consumed by the flames of Satan."

"Probably," she agreed. And then, as if it was either relevant or a logical end to the entire sordid tale, she added: "It was a Snoopy backpack."

The narrator of Club 8's "Jesus, Walk With Me" is nothing like the characters of Jesus Camp. Thank God. From 2001-3, Club 8 released three gorgeous albums in quick succession, but the Swedish band has been quiet since then (although Johan Angergård spent the past few years releasing music with The Legends and Acid House Kings). Their comeback album, The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming, features a couple of singles ("Heaven" and "Whatever You Want") that suggest that the band has been listening to their fellow countrymen ("Whatever You Want" also pays homage to "Being Boring," while other tracks steal licks and moments from Spector and Depeche Mode).

But the record begins with a beautiful acoustic ballad that's a compelling portrait of faith. Like our friends from Jesus Camp, the song's narrator does desire salvation and comfort: "If God made me, will Jesus save me?/Take me through the day?" But she also understands why she does. Without claiming that her kind of faith is typical of the very structure of faith per se, she pleads nakedly on the haunting chorus: "Fool me into believing/I don't care if you're deceiving me/I wouldn't want it any other way/Cause then I'd only stay the same." Her vocals are here doubletracked, as if she both comprehends the self-deceitful nature of her wants, but also needs to emphasize their urgency despite it all. And, in turn, who among us doesn't understand that very human desire to be protected? By God. By Jesus. By a lover. By a constructed image of something that we ask, beg to fool us. Even by Snoopy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Plastic Operator, "The Long Run" (2007)

"Tomorrow has hit me by surprise/Is it me, or did today just pass me by?" On "The Long Run," Pieter Van Dessel, who's one half of Plastic Operator, sings of how overwhelmed he feels by the speed of life. It's not anything especially drastic or even specific, but merely a sense that there's always more he could do: "I am aware of the jokes I should have said/I am conscious of the laughter I didn't get/And sometimes I promise to be good/But it all depends on swiftly swinging moods."

In the face of these problems, the song doesn't launch into any grand inspirational homily. The solution, contained in the chorus when it's not implied by the determined dee-dee-dee-dee keyboard riff, is very modest. "It should be alright in the long run," he says. "It should be alright if I'm holding on/It takes a while to get up when things let you down/True, but I've got time." There's not even the certainty of a "will," just the vague but still comforting sense that things, eventually, should be alright. If we think about it, it's not a totally convincing promise. Given that many todays are passing us by, how can we be certain that when we fall and/or things let us down, we will have the "time" to slowly get back up? We can't, of course. But we soldier on. We take shelter in the perspective afforded by the phrase "in the long run" -- the coping mechanism that is the phrase "in the long run" -- because if we don't, it becomes difficult to go on. As coping mechanisms go, it's a damn good one (except for those moments when the future terrifies rather than reassures us, that is).

"The Long Run" closes Plastic Operator's Different Places album, which is, on the whole, a pretty wonderful record. Like many people, I first heard of the band in 2004 when Fluxblog featured "Folder" (a fact that the band sort of recognizes in their official bio), and three years later the duo has put out a long player that is probably the second best old school synthpop album of the year -- thanks to tracks like "Peppermint," with its skittering breakbeat, or the understatedly moving "Home 0207," or the female-chant-over-a-Gorillaz-beat "Parasols" (although the song misses a great opportunity to end each title line with an echo of "asol, asol, asol"), or the infectious tale of a woman who is "Singing All The Time." (The best is not Dntel's, even if Jimmy Tamborello's other project has become the yardstick in recent years for great dinky-dink electropop with a melancholic mumbling male vocalist. It's this, if you must know.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Axe Riverboy, "Roundabout"/"Carry On" (2007)

Xavier Boyer, lead singer of the wonderful Tahiti 80, has released a solo album, Tutu To Tango. It's a bit more acoustic than his band's work: it lacks the beats of Fosbury, and even the swingin' pop hooks of the first two Tahiti 80 albums. But although the material is much more low-key, its charm emerges after repeated spins. The middle of the album boasts two particularly energetic numbers: the first single "Roundabout" (all faux-heavy metal guitar riffs and stuttering singing), and the cloppy, clappy "Carry On" (all clipped acoustic guitars and characteristic falsetto choruses).

The name he's chosen for the project is Axe Riverboy, which is simply an anagram of his. This is a marvellous idea. I hereby predict a trend:

1. In 2009, Girls Aloud will announce that they are "on temporary hiatus as a group." Nadine Coyle will assume the stage name Annoyed Lice, but sadly her album of big band ballads will fizzle and she will have to recoup her losses by starring in the doubly-inevitable shampoo commercial.

2. Tracey Thorn should have released Out Of The Woods under the moniker The Contrary.

3. New Order may or may not have already broken up. Our grumpy little Barney therefore may or may not re-emerge as a rapper called Unmerry Beans.

4. When The Ark disbands and Ola Salo goes it alone, he will do so as Alas, Loo!, but for some inexplicable reason he will fail to attract much of an audience, except when he plays big outdoor festivals.

5. Eight years from now, Sugababes 19.0 finally call it quits. Heidi has married an oil tycoon and long faded from view, while Keisha is on Big Brother. Amelle endures to the end, but her two final bandmates are such backstabbin' hos that Ms Berrabah decides to call her solo project Abel! Abel! Harmer! Speculation about which of the fourteen bitches she's worked with those three names refer to is beyond rife.

6. Brandon Flowers realizes that his true calling lies in gender illusion cabaret. Ladies and gentlemen, Brandon Flowers is Won-Bra Fondlers.

7. Saint Etienne never break up, but the boys are so busy with their film experiments that Sarah decide on a surprising new career as Her Rascal Clunk. If you guess that her new vocation is "stripping" or "porn," shame on you, but I would almost understand.

8. Róisín! Your solo career is still embryonic! (No one heard Ruby Blue, after all.) It's not too late to re-market your upcoming Overpowered album under a much more pronounceable, much less acutely accented non de plume. How about "In Your Shrimp"?

9. As sad as it is to contemplate, Pet Shop Boys eventually spin off into solo acts. Neil Tennant would be Neat Lent Inn, and the music would of course be austere. Austere Gregorian chants, that is. Chris, on the other hand, would release an album of indie rock under the name Cow Relish.

10. For his solo career, Bono adopts the name God. If you want to be the one to point out to him that, um, that's not an anagram, be my guest, because God WILL fucking strike you dead.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Chromeo, "Bonafied Lovin' (Tough Guys)" (2007)

A bouncy electro number that, in a perfect world, would be #1 on every pop chart, "Bonafied Lovin'" sees Dave 1 trying to persuade some woman that she needs to dump her sweaty, insecure young buck of a boyfriend and take up with him, the older guy with "life experience" and "the right clothes and the right appearance," who can give her "bonafied lovin'." It's not clear why older lovin' is more "bona fide," unless there is some joke here about geriatric boners that I am too innocent to appreciate. "Never mind an SMS, what you need is a sweet caress," he hilariously sings, as if technology and TLC are mutually exclusive. You only need one hand to SMS, I've been told.

There's therefore little question that the lyric is faintly absurd -- a Boomkat review calls it "howlingly silly" -- but to take it as unintentionally funny would miss the point. Admittedly, I myself might have some years ago: I first heard of Chromeo via the Paper Faces (aka Jacques Lu Cont) remix of their "Needy Girl," so I filed them away as a humorless band that has more in common with glum techno acts rather than what they really are. I recently burned their Fancy Footwork album onto a 80 min CDR, alongside the equally brief Pleasure 2 album, and the two bands go perfectly together. (Indeed, it would have been way more appropriate for Lu Cont to have remixed "Needy Girl" under his Les Rythmes Digitales moniker.) And really, that 80s backing -- chock full of insanely catchy cartoon sound effects -- should make the tongue-in-cheek nature of the song abundantly clear. This, after all, is a song in which our narrator tries to seduce a woman by proclaiming his coolness, but the music that backs up his claim is totally "uncool" and "untough" 80s electro. He's just a big ol' dork, and that's why I love this track so.