srijeda, 3. srpnja 2013.

La Femme - Psycho Tropical Berlin (2013)

Kako Francuzi osvajaju povijest rocka misleći da je to Mars.

"Cherchez la femme" - Look for the woman. We French mean that behind any Bel Ami, there is always a woman, pulling the strings from the wings. Now look for La Femme - the French band. A woman is always somewhat mysterious, which seems to be the reason why the band chose this name. And indeed, La Femme are clad in a corset of vintage sounds.
"Cherchez le garçon" ("Look for the boy") Daniel Darc, the former leader of the French new wave band Taxi Girl, might have answered. It's actually two boys, Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée, who are the masterminds behind La Femme, and who bring him, with a few others, back from the dead in Psycho Tropical Berlin. These two longtime friends from Biarritz, a city in South-Western France renowned for its waves, composed everything here from pockets full of musical influences. Psycho Tropical Berlin, their debut LP, is a mix of surf revival, updated cold wave (in a similar vein to countryman Lescop), 1960s yéyé and psychedelia.
"Psycho Tropical Berlin": is apparently also their self-penned genre (they have also said "strange wave, new Motown, witch wave, silly mental wave"... whatever). Each term makes for a pillar to describe their music. "Psycho" could stand for the general sense of existential angst and madness pervading the songs. Take 'Antitaxi' for instance, all psychotic yet grotesque surf rock, not unlike B-52's 'Rock Lobster', and an absurd rant against cabs: "Prends le Bus!" ("Take the bus!") chants the chorus ("Taxis, far too costly, Taxis, far too dangerous").
There's quite a different atmosphere with 'Amour Dans Le Motu' - look here for the (psychedelic) "tropical" side of La Femme. Love in a tiny isolated place (a motu being, apparently, a Pacific reef coral islet), yet the song with its frenetic percussion and scary Amazonian bird sounds actually evokes a dark jungle, crammed with secrets, while a runaway flute alludes to a great escape.
As for "Berlin", it recalls the romanticism of the Cold War city and the German spirit of experimentation. 'From Tchernobyl With Love', is probably the most obviously cold wave-indebted song in the album. The melancholy and strangeness quite deftly transcribe radio-activity. It suggests April 1986: the "catastrophe", an artificial male voice reads the letter to his family back home, the family that he will probably never see again.
In other words, Psycho Tropical Berlin may be deemed as a journey through time and space. 'Si un Jour' recalls the "yéyé" years of the 1960s, when the French youth adopted American rock & roll). Marilu Chollet's child-like voice is reminiscent of France Gal, and atop a synth she sings about female emancipation via acting like a boy. In the same vein, the dynamic 'Welcome America', recalls those times (the golden years), when miserable post-war Europe cherished hopes of leaving for this eldorado.
If there is a narrative to find out of this collection of reveries, it's the mystery of the woman: omnipresent, multifaceted, embodied by five lovely female voices. In the eerie 'La Femme', Clara Luciani's ghostly voice suggests the woman is a femme fatale, a vampire-like Salomé that will lead the hero to his fall, while in 'La Femme Ressort', a hypnotic and lingering piano melody, Clémence Quelennec, introduces herself as "the spiral", a jack in a Pandora's box.
By contrast, there's the very catchy yet cynical pop song 'Nous Etions Deux', and 'It's Time To Wake Up (2023)', a sweet ballad in a dystopian near-future world where most died and others are enslaved, and where a couple is trying to survive together for just one more day.

So much for La Femme's mystery. John Lennon once said: "French rock & roll is like English wine". Considering the success of this debut LP, we have to suppose that there is good English wine somewhere... -
Jean Marcel Maillard

Seclusion, hermeticism and anonymity seem almost natural courses for artists to take, though such obfuscation rarely lasts. Whether in spite of the artists’ intentions, or for merely pragmatic purposes, proper names have a way of seeping out. Though attention to early EPs from the French sextet La Femme has come with the hushed reverence of mystery accompanying it, their debut LP, Psycho Tropical Berlin comes unveiled – allowing the songs rather than a nebulously defined narrative to do the talking.

But La Femme’s obtuseness never seemed a crutch like it did so many of their mask-bearing peers. Even on early efforts, principal songwriters Marlon Magnée and Sacha Got were more geared toward their songcraft than creating a compelling storyline. Tracks like “Sur La Planche” from 2011′s Le Podium #1 made like Stereolab covering “Monster Mash,” — a bass heavy take on the immortal cheap organ sonics of Scooby Doo chase scene music. Even as recently as April of 2012, a Guardian profile noted La Femme wasn’t telling who their lineup was, but both then and now, their enigmatic nature was the least interesting thing about them.

On Psycho Tropical Berlin, the French songwriting duo channels ’60s surf rock sonics on one song, Broadcast on the next, Bis on another. They allow the best of the worlds of underground pop to coalesce onto one sprawling, if disjointed record. The cyclical keyboards of “It’s Time To Wake Up (2023)” spill haphazardly into the airy opening of “Nous Étions Deux,” before the latter breaks back into rumbling krautpop. Perhaps it’s the language barrier between myself and La Femme’s rotating cast of vocalists that makes the record feel a little disjointed, but even so, they’ve emerged from the mystery that surrounded the string of EPs that jump-started their career. And even though the veil has dropped on a schizophrenic effort, the strength of these songs should keep La Femme from slinking back into the shadows. - Colin Joyce

The members of La Femme are from Biarritz, a beach resort town in France. But even if you weren’t aware of this biographical detail before listening to their debut LP, opener “Antitaxi” would make this abundantly clear, what with its shouted French lyrics, surf shack guitars, and wheezing organ drones. Right from the start, this band lays all its cards on the table.
And that table was built by Stereolab. The comparison is almost too easy to make, especially once we hear Brittany-based singer Clémence take over lead vocal duties on “Amour Dans le Motu,” which also features a hauntingly sampled flute, in case it wasn’t clear we’re dealing with some neo-psychedelia here. Like Stereolab, La Femme build atmospheres that are unabashedly nostalgic for 60s lounge pop and 70s kraut dalliances, melodies that bloom with singsongy straightforwardness, and songs that feel like throwbacks without simply rehashing past cliches or tired tropes. It’s a deft balancing act these bands pull off: without necessarily trying to sound original, they nonetheless take these established sounds and make them their own.
Like, the snarling guitars of tracks like “Interlude” are dripping with the sorts of guitar riffs one would expect to hear on a “day trip to the shore” episode of any given sitcom. But the way they interact with both the music’s harmonic structures and their bubbling electronics keep the proceedings reassuringly far from parody or lazy cultural appropriation. So “Hypsoline” somehow manages to be a bass-heavy post-punk tribute (complete with nonchalantly spoken lyrics), surf-and-turf reverbed guitar jam, and stately synthpop exercise all at once. The latter feature carries over into the following track, “Sur la planche 2013,” a giddy new wave number bolstered by those ever-present guitar riffs. The biggest difference between the way La Femme approach this sound and, say, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is that La Femme seem more willing to embrace a certain kitsch aesthetic, taking Stereolab’s poignant melodies and giving them a B-52s-esque glossy sheen. (Not to mention that album cover, which might come across as obnoxious or trying-too-hard-to-be-wacky if it weren’t an apt summation of the band’s sound.) Psycho Tropical Berlin is above all a fun listen; that’s not to say Stereolab’s music isn’t fun, of course, but even on the slower songs, La Femme are making music for parties and weekend getaways.
And you know what? That’s fine. In fact, it’s more than fine: it’s practically irresistible. Here’s an album that’s as fun to listen to as it must have been to record, and it doesn’t ask for anything more from the listener than a spare hour and a willingness to happily nod along. I think there’s sometimes a tendency among music critics to be suspicious of surface-level interaction; good music, you see, has to have a deeper meaning or grander purpose. There is no deeper meaning to Psycho Tropical Berlin besides having a good time. Even when they’re warning us that “yellow fever is waiting for you,” which they do on “Nous etions deux,” they make it sound enticing and even a bit glamorous. Best of all, band keeps their pop tight and to-the-point; there’s little ambient meandering or post-rock languor here. “Saisis la Corde,” for instance, erupts from a sparse intro of (more) organ drones and a heartbeat-like bassline into a delightfully 8-bit slice of chugging pop rock. Halfway through, it suddenly switches gears and heads towards a demented, Commodore-64-carnival dream, like something the Fiery Furnaces circa Blueberry Boat might have whipped up after spending a few weeks with the characters from Tender Is The Night. The original rhythm gradually returns, and by track’s end we’ve been swept up in an airy, suntanned denouement of chunky keys and the ticking of a clock, which to my ears sounds not like it’s counting down not to an end to the good vibrations but rather like, well, an interesting noise to be taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, “Le Blues de Francoise” is happily spooky, like Casper the Ghost spending a Weekend at Bernie’s; “Si un jour,” on the other hand, take that Stereolab organ drone and pair it with new wave synths and a bouncy, uptempo rhythm that belies Clémence’s lyrics lamenting the restrictive gender roles she learned from her father. She wants to abandon her Moulinex (a French household appliances maker, presumably favored by housewives and homemakers) in favor of spitting, smoking, and wearing pants like one of the guys. This could’ve been a heavy-handed exercise in Music With A Message, but fortunately for everyone involved, La Femme are smarter than that. It’s not that their music can’t make you think; they’d just rather make you dance.
So, La Femme are smart enough to know what they’re doing, experienced enough listeners to wear their many influences on what I’d call their sleeves if I thought they were wearing any–really now, who wears sleeves on the beach?–and savvy enough to craft delicious pop songs that explore a variety of sounds and themes but never wear out their welcome. That’s another nice thing about their party; they know when to end it, because they know we’ll be back. I want La Femme to be the house band for my future kid’s Bar Mitzvah, and as long as you understand why that’s a compliment, you should greatly enjoy Psycho Tropical Berlin. - 

For those of us in the UK, the only way you might know of French electro dance-punks La Femme is through their support slot for Maximo Park on their tour last year. For the few that saw them, they left quite an impression – they gave enthusiastic, energetic performances – rewarded with an appearance in The Guardian’s ‘New Band of the Day’ feature. Slowly, they’ve amassed a following on this side of the channel and Psycho Tropical Berlin, their debut, is a tantalising opportunity for the group to earn themselves yet more positive exposure. It might not be something wholly new, but it’s a kitschy and fun work of 80s nostalgia with plenty to move your feet to.
Much of the album has pieced together from the band’s early EPs, albeit in a remixed form. Opener ‘Antitaxi!’ is a wonderful dance-punk track, with a surf-guitar style refrain and some delightful synth bass. One can even overcome the language barrier – there’s plenty of cute catchphrases to shout along to. In these sections the group recall early-era B-52s, ‘Amour Dans Le Motu’ embodying the group’s zanier, off-the-wall side. Earlier singles like ‘Sur La Planche’ also appear, updated. The new mixes of the group’s older tracks often favour a more electro-heavy sound. It’s a brave move, but crucially the group don’t sacrifice their energy on these mixes - Psycho Tropical Berlin definitely recalls their delightfully sweaty live shows rather than drab, automated electronica.
The group generally shift between this dancey surf-punk and slower, more pensive electronica. The likes of ‘It’s Time To Wake Up (2033)’ maintain the simplicity of the rest of the record – relying on a two-chord shift – but slow the whole thing down. There’s progression as the sound builds across it’s six minutes. It’s one of the album’s most interesting cuts, a plethora of random synth squeals bleed into the song’s structure, leaving us with a delightful, bubbling concoction at the end.
The kitschy, cute mood is juxtaposed by the likes of darker cuts such as ‘Packshot’. The vocals become much more urgent, descending keyboard riffs evoking a low-budget 80s horror soundtrack – and that’s really a compliment. The whole album is a throwback to 80s pop – across it’s fifteen cuts is a band having fun. Psycho Tropical Berlin is as bizarre and mad as it’s title suggests, and that’s what pop should be about.

It’s regrettable that the album is seeing a limited release (it’ll be difficult to get hold of if you didn’t pre-order it): amid a sea of corporate-pop, Psycho Tropical Berlin reminds us what pop music is really all about – catchy hooks with a dance inducing beat. La Femme’s blend of this and 80s throwback electronica makes for one of the year’s most enjoyable listens so far – it might be a difficult one to get hold of outside France, but it’s worth the hunt. It won’t be the most mold-breaking thing you’ll hear this year, but I’d wager you’ll have more fun with this one than anything else in 2013. -

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