posted on December 28, 2009 18:00
Didn't we do this only twelve months ago? 2009 flew. And now we're facing into 2010, which feels a bit freaky - shouldn't we be living in space and wearing jetpacks by now?
It's been a mixed year in French alternative music, as we'll explain below. Still, we've found plenty of great new acts during the past twelve months - hopefully you like some or all of what's been featured here this year. Thanks to everyone who e-mailed and commented during the year - all your feedback, tips and suggestions have been greatly appreciated. And if you only just read, thanks for that too.
So, time to make our annual choice of what we liked during the past calendar year. There's a winner of the Palme d'Or (right) in competition this time around - how will she fare in this, the equivalent award race for French music?
A disappointing year for long-players in France. Well-known names brought out average records that seemed to settle for consolidation. Hand on heart, only our top two are at Champions League standard - but the others are still worth a listen and genuinely enjoyable despite their modest achievements. (Click on an artist name to visit their MySpace page.)
1. General Elektriks 'Good City For Dreamers'
Bursting with a spirit of fun and adventure, the second album by Franco-Irishman Herve Salters is a hugely enjoyable blend of loose funkiness and tight electronica, flavoured with jazzy progressions and Beatles-y pop hooks. At once eclectic and accessible, it should be an international success in 2010.
2. Birdy Nam Nam 'Manual For Successful Rioting'
The best French electronic album of the year owes a lot to German audio engineering - the clinical beeps and blips, control-freak loops and robotic voices patented by the mighty Kraftwerk. Like their Teutonic peers, the Gallic turntable foursome put humanity and wit into the machinery. A different experience to their live show, but no worse for that.
3. Kim 'Mary Lee Doo'
Our reigning champion returns for a podium finish in 2009. Kim Stanislaus Giani here flavours his '80s-style electro-pop with '60s and '70s references (dig the Fleetwood Mac bassline on 'Solenn') to create an agreeably romantic and wistful vibe.
4. Pony Pony Run Run 'You Need Pony Pony Run Run'
... and you need to change your band name! This Nantes trio's dancefloor-friendly indie-pop did the Phoenix thing better than Phoenix in 2009. A pity, then, that no one outside France will ever take seriously a band with such a terrible name.
5. Flairs 'Sweat Symphony'
Perhaps not better than Prince, as Lionel Flairs claims in this album's key track. Still, it's funky, catchy electro-pop that’ll have you grinning and grinding and perspiring.
6. Yuksek 'Away From The Sea'
Down-the-line floorfillers from the new boy wonder of le French touch. Could this be the last hurrah of a tired genre?
7. Get Back Guinozzi! 'Carpet Madness'
Another awful band name to scupper a likeable record of lo-fi indie pop with a touch of reggae rhythm. Any idea what their name refers to?
8. Diving With Andy 'Sugar Sugar'
And yet another nightmare from the baptism font! Juliette Pacquereau's low, melancholic croon complements a charming '60s Gallic pop flashback.
9. Emilie Simon 'The Big Machine'
Ms Simon's previous album hinted at a love of Kate Bush but this record feels like a full-on homage to the great woman - a similar style of piano-based pop songs with hints of showtunes and classical training to them, served on a bed of modern and retro electronica. You probably need to be a Kate fan to like this album - but then, you really should be a Kate fan anyway.
10. Etienne Jaumet 'Night Music'
The electronic side project from a Breton indie rocker - cool and thoughtful, conjuring up the atmosphere its title suggests.
(You might also like: Phoenix 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix'; Charlotte Gainsbourg 'IRM'; Emily Loizeau 'Pays Sauvage'; Sliimy 'Paint Your Face'; Miss Kittin and The Hacker 'Two'; Revolver 'Music For A While')
NOT Album of the Year: Plastiscines 'About Love'
What's the French for 'second album syndrome'? After a cracking debut, the all-girl punk-poppers lose their personality, wit and charm by churning out formulaic alt-rock on this follow-up. The lack of imagination and individuality in this album is quite depressing.
Roll of honour - albums
2009 - General Elektriks 'Good City For Dreamers'
2008 - Kim 'Don Lee Doo'
2007 - Dionysos 'Le Mecanique Du Coeur'
2006 - Emily Loizeau 'L'Autre Bout Du Monde'
2005 - Camille 'Le Fil'
Here's where the real action is happening - new acts in provincial cities posting brilliant tracks on the internet. If even half of them release albums next year then 2010 will be a classic for French pop. That said, you might know our winner, even if it's only from further up the page...
1. General Elektriks 'Raid The Radio'
It's the double for Herve Salters with this joyous track. You can dance to it tonight; you can whistle it tomorrow - isn't that what a perfect pop record should be?
2. Mataharie 'O Oak'
A girl with a high, haunting voice sings an enigmatic semi-electro song: another Kate Bush fan for sure. From a promotion-only four-song disc where all four songs are outstanding - this duo from Annecy have the potential for a magnificent album in 2010.
3. Pony Pony Run Run 'Hey You'
Like its parent album, a track that takes the lead from Phoenix - danceable indie-pop shot through with wistful romanticism.
4. Andromakers 'Electricity'
Two girls from Aix-en-Provence who are gradually building up a large following in France with their glacial Au Revoir Simone-style electro-pop: like Mataharie, another pair who should go on to greater things in this coming year.
5. Lunamira 'Quietly Burning'
Okay, so they mightn't really be a lovey-dovey boy-girl duo the way their online presence suggests. But this gorgeous little pop song is as smouldering and romantic as its title. If ever you have a slow set at your indie disco, this is the one.
6. Phoenix '1901'
'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' turned out to be a disappointment: this brilliant single and its successor, 'Lisztomania', were the only exciting tracks on it. '1901' is quintessential Phoenix - it seems to go nowhere but by the end you've been smitten.
7. Kap Bambino 'Bluescreen'
Slightly lost on an album of Crystal Castles-style techno-banging, this track is a throwback to post-punk new wave synth-pop, with a thudding bassline, icy keyboard parts and actual singing from irritating shouter Caroline Martial.
8. The Sophia Lorenians 'Locomotion'
A fabulous bit of retro-tastic '70s soul-pop: falsetto crooning, shimmering guitar shards and a hint of Philly strings.
9. Underground Railroad 'Pick The Ghost'
Following on from their fine 2008 album 'Sticks And Stones', the UK-based trio returned with an EP of more top-quality Sonic Youth/JMC-esque indieness.
10. Charlotte Gainsbourg 'Vanities'
Our favourite Palme d'Or-winning neighbour served up a mixed bag of an album this year. The Beatles-y feel-good numbers felt laboured but this cold and distant track showed that Serge's daughter still has her pop wits about her. Next time around, she should head to Scandinavia in mid-winter and make a full album like this: the frostiness suits her.
(You might also like: Kim 'Solenn'; Chicros 'What's New Today On TV?'; The Wendy Darlings 'Suffer Girl'; Flairs 'Truckers Delight'; Freddy McQuinn 'Chasing Rainbows'; Diving With Andy 'Merry Dance')
NOT Song of the Year: Charlotte Gainsbourg 'IRM'
Palme d'Or? Damn poor! A tuneless and self-indulgent 'Tomorrow Never Knows'-style dirge that had us panicking - had the ultra-cool Ms Gainsbourg made a bags of her new album? Fortunately, the rest of Charlotte's Beck-collaboration was better than this awful title track.
Roll of honour - songs
2009 - General Elektriks 'Raid The Radio'
2008 - M83 'Kim & Jessie'
2007 - Pravda 'Body Addict'
2006 - Vanessa And The O's 'Bagatelle'
2005 - Camille 'Ta Douleur'
So there we are: General Elektriks is our grand champion this year. Here's the new official video for 'Raid The Radio':