The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

18

The story so far: Two French musicians toil away in semi-obscurity, resigned to life under the radar. Little do they suspect that someone is watching them. Now read on:

Some musicians are happy to be local heroes, cult artists avoiding the harsh media glare and 'Hello'-wedding of celebrity.

But no profile is low enough, no cult act obscure enough, no home-made CD-R indie enough to hide you from the CLUAS gaffer. He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake.

And so your Paris correspondent received orders: find Natural Snow Buildings!

Natural Snow Buildings

So, Natural Snow Buildings (right) are a duo: he's Mehdi and she's Solange. They come from Bourgogne, the eastern region of France we know in English as Burgundy - home of fine wine, delicious beef stew and a shade of red that never looks good on trousers.

By any definition, Natural Snow Buildings are a cult act. They've been making records since 1997, often home-made and with careful artwork. Each of them also puts out solo work - Mehdi as TwinSisterMoon and Solange as Isengrind. Their product is usually released in very limited quantities - 500 copies is a typical pressing run. And most of those copies get snapped up by eager devotees.

What do they sound like? Well, what we've heard so far is lo-fi alt-folk with a touch of experimental post-rock.

And is it good, this lo-fi alt-f. with the touch of exp. p-r? Yes, it is. We recommend their most recent album, 'Shadow Kingdom', and an earlier double-album called 'The Dance Of The Moon And The Sun'. The music is beguiling and thoughtful, the vocals warm and careworn.

You can hear some tracks on the Natural Snow Buildings MySpace page. From 'Shadow Kingdom', here's what they probably think of all this paparazzi-esque CLUAS celebrity spotlight - 'Go Away, Disappear':


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18

Congratulations are in order after Adrian Crowley won the Choice Music Prize with the brilliant ‘Season of the Sparks’ album. He had some tough competition in the form of Valerie Francis’ ‘Slow Dynamo’ and Bell X1‘s  ‘Blue Lights on the Runway’ among many others. A CLUAS interview with him can be read here.

I recently got Fionn Regan’s ‘Shadow of an Empire’, which has a lot more electric instrumentation than his debut ‘The End of History.’ While it doesn’t entirely veer away from the folk style he’s known for it does display his immense musical talent, sometimes experimenting with some more traditional sounds.

He has the lyrical sensibilities of Bob Dylan with the sometimes melodious and engaging vocal style of Johnny Cash. Judging by this album, Regan can only ever get more interesting and creative with his music.

The album covers a lot of different ground, starting from the raucous and hooky ‘Protection Racket’ to the personal and intimate in ‘Lines Written in Winter’. Throughout the album it seems as though not a word was wasted in the lyrics, everything has some sort of significance.

Here’s an interesting snippet of the song ‘Protection Racket’, the first single from ‘The Shadow of an Empire’.


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12
Pet Shop Boys 'Pandemonium'
A review of the live album/DVD 'Pandemonium' by Pet Shop Boys Review Snapshot: Over 100 minutes of pure bubble-gum pop, absorbed in a rainbow of multi-coloured lighting, with a c...

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12
Norah Jones 'The Fall'
A review of the album 'The Fall' by Norah Jones Review Snapshot: A lot has changed about Norah. There is a real notion that she has grown up, and she wanted this to be heard...

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10
C O D E S (live in the Academy, Dublin)
C O D E S (live in the Academy, Dublin) Review Snapshot:  C O D E S show once again why they are one of Ireland's best, if not best, live acts. The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 1...

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Posted in: Gig Reviews
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09
David Bowie 'A Reality Tour Live in Dublin'
A review of the album 'A Reality Tour Live in Dublin' by David Bowie Review Snapshot: Possible the last ever Bowie Concert to be captured live, before an Irish audience who play ...

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09
Marina & the Diamonds 'The Family Jewels'
A review of the album The Family Jewels by Marina & the Diamonds Review Snapshot: Put a striking Greek girl in Wales who grows up to have a London accent and you get Marina Diamandis, bet...

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09

The first of France's major summer music festivals to announce its 2010 bill is Les Vieilles Charrues. The annual trip to Carhaix in Brittany takes place on 15-18 July.

Les Vieilles Charrues 2010

You might remember that last year's event featured Bruce Springsteen in his only French show of 2009. This year's stars are not as legendary but still attractive enough to ensure a healthy turnout.

Top of the bill are Muse. Now, the English trio are playing two huge concerts at the Stade de France in Paris this June, so it might seem strange that they play another large French show only weeks later. However, Les Vieilles Charrues attracts fans for the unique experience of a festival in the remote west of Brittany - which is also relatively accessible for English fans. Also, Brittany in July is full of young holidaymakers from around Europe, so Les Vieilles Charrues has a greater potential audience than its isolated location suggests.

Back to the line-up - the other name that interests us is Phoenix. However, the Grammy winners are surprisingly far down the bill - tugging the forelock to Mika but also to four other French acts. Who are these artists that the home fans seem to prefer over Phoenix?

We featured Indochine early last year - '80s post-punk veterans who will also be filling the Stade de France this summer. Diam's is a tomboyish rapper who raised some eyebrows when she converted to Islam recently. Alain Souchon is one of these old chanson française guys that you non-Frenchies don't need to know about.

Jacques Dutronc

The other French headliner is Jacques Dutronc (left, in his youth). If that name sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard it in the original version of 'Brimful Of Asha' by Cornershop - at the end, when Tjindar Singh is listing his old records, he mentions "Jacques Dutronc and the Bolan boogie".

So who is Jacques Dutronc? Well, as a young man in the 1960s he was a pop star, and by the '90s he had become a respected actor. He is the partner of Françoise Hardy, perhaps France's coolest female pop singer ever - and their son Thomas Dutronc is now a star himself, making a likeable kind of jazz manouche-influenced acoustic chanson-pop.

And what does Jacques Dutronc sound like? From looking at his picture (left), you'd imagine such a suave and dapper man to croon like Bryan Ferry. In fact, Dutronc père has a rasping, hectoring voice, like a hoarse Mick Jagger. Indeed, his '60s hits bring a touch of Stones raucousness to the chanson française genre - lots of words and little melody, but with enough attitude to compensate.

As for other acts at Les Vieilles Charrues, dance music fans will recognise Vitalic and Etienne de Crécy. Revolver make a rather nice skiffle-pop sound. But you don't need to bother with Gojira or Gaetan Roussel. And if you're travelling all the way to deepest Brittany to see one-hit-wonder Mr Oizo, him of the Flat Eric fad in 1998, then you've got issues.

On which point, how does one get to deepest Brittany and Les Vieilles Charrues? First you go to a major west Breton town like Lorient or Brest (by air), Roscoff (by ferry) or Guingamp (by train). From there, the regional authority has organised coaches to Carhaix for only €3 return. Full practical details are available here in English.

Tickets for Les Vieilles Charrues went on sale last week and already all 35,000 four-day tickets have been sold - unless you choose a four-day package including transport to and from faraway French cities like Dijon or Toulouse. Never mind - you can still get a three-day pass for €88 or a one-day ticket from €37.50 to €51.20, depending on which day you choose. Muse are playing on Thursday 15 July and Phoenix on Saturday 17 July (with Indochine headlining that night). You can find full ticket details on French online ticket agents like FNAC.

For more information on the festival, check out Les Vieilles Charrues' website (in French apart from the practical info page in the link above). Here's a pleasantly bizarre song from Jacques Dutronc that Neil Hannon has been known to perform live - 'Les Playboys':


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08

A review of the album 'It's Blitz!' by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah YeahsReview Snapshot: Have Karen O’s NY art-rock knuckleheads sold their guitars and bought turntables?

The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10

Full Review:

“It’s Sh*t!”

It’s not quite actually. It might have been a title worth a (mild) chortle if that were the case. However if you’re already a fan it could be your initial reaction. Those familiar with their brash and rattling sound, roughly cut between the dusty granite canyons of New York and inspired by the “avant-punk” of sultry lead singer Karen O’s Ohio, may feel this lightning bolt of an album singe their senses and offend their rock sensibilities.
 
It is an alien discomfort, the reverse to seeing your beloved nerdy bestest-friend you used to play war-games with come home from college recast as a woman-melting Don Juan. In "It’s Blitz!" the band pump voltage into their previous experimentation with studio sorcery.
 
TV On The Radio magi Dave Sitek is tossed into the blender as producer. As for Nick Zinner, to some the “best guitarist in rock’n’roll right now”, out goes his ogrish six-string (almost). Instead he wields a dizzying array of bleeps, blips and synth sound waves, unrecognisable to Zinner’s early frustrated guitar licks: all fuzz, dirt and restrained sexual energy.
 
This continues a recent neon-streaked trend. Jumping the packed bandwagon that recently rolled out of an 80s wormhole with La Roux et al, Karen O unveils her love of the Giorgio Moroder-mastered disco of Donna Summer. Funky opener Zero, an essensual (eh, is that clever? How otherwise does a language evolve) new party tune, and Dragon Queen ecstatically demonstrate her penchant for dance and orgasmic screeching.
 
Just as the buzz-cut commentary of Dull Life and Shame and Fortune hint at recidivism and a return to guitar, the album zaps back into a mix of I Was A Cubscout-esque soft electronic balladry that the YYY’s hinted to in the past with the likes of Dudley.
 
The band continue their creative ascension with closer Little Shadow. Although it’s not the immediately accessible, sand-blasted diamond of their earlier garage racket, the band ask you to “follow” Karen and co as they climb that “ladder to the sun”, exploring the bionically-boosted vestigial reaches of their talent.
 
Lead single Zero could prove a catchy call-to-arms for a new generation of electro-punks to get their disco-rock “leather on” and the striking album cover is sure to go down as an important still in the great TV wall of noughties’ images. The painted-nail fist crushing the egg is powerful and ludicrous, perhaps symbolic of the band’s sound: shopping feminine strength to male brutality and creating a luscious over-kill of noise.
 
Ciarán McCollum

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06

The most prominent Irish act in France this month is Declan de Barra. The Waterford man is here for a series of shows around the country between now and May.

Declan de Barra

We've featured de Barra (right) on this blog before - he performs frequently in France, most notably a recent Paris show on the same bill as alt-country legend Josh T. Pearson. He's also been picking up good reviews from the native press.

Fans of acoustic singer-songering will certainly be impressed by de Barra's intensity and poeticism. So far he's made two albums - a 2005 release called 'Song Of A Thousand Birds' and its 2008 follow-up 'A Fire To Scare The Sun' - and alt-folk aficionados should check them out.

On his current spin around la hexagone, de Barra visits places such as Saint Brieuc, Lens and Saint Etienne. This Friday, 12 March, he has a show in the Paris region, at Les Mains d'Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen (not far from the Stade de France).

Full details of his tour, his life and his works are available on Declan de Barra's MySpace page. No news yet of any upcoming gigs back in the E.I.R.E.

Here's a striking video of Declan de Barra from a previous Paris visit. French music website Le Hiboo ('the owl') filmed him singing a capella at the Madeleine, a famous church just off the Place de la Concorde. He's singing 'Throw Your Arms Around Me', a favourite among his fans - and he's in his bare feet on the marble floor. We feel the cold just looking at him:


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.