posted on September 15, 2009 19:00
French pop music has a number of signature styles that the wider world immediately recognises. There's le french touch - that mix (in varying measures) of electronica and indie made famous by Daft Punk and Air and continued by the likes of Cassius, Phoenix and Justice. The dramatic music-hall torch-songs of Edith Piaf have gained new life from the recent Oscar-winning biopic. And the dark cabaret ballads of adopted Frenchman Jacques Brel have been influential on the work of Scott Walker, David Bowie and Nick Cave.
One classic French genre that has slipped out of the international limelight in recent years is the Gallic '60s pop sound. Where British bands of the time seemed tight on uppers and rock n'roll attitude, the music of their French peers has the cool and languid feel of bebop jazz. The drumming is sparse and low in the mix, guitars are clipped, basslines are looser, symphonic strings add je ne sais quoi - and there's an air of liberated playfulness. This was the start of Serge Gainsbourg's golden period: the fantastic singles he wrote for France Gall, Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, plus his own masterpieces up to 1971's 'Histoire De Melody Nelson' album. You can hear this sound in tracks as diverse as 'Sexy Boy' by Air, 'Veni Vidi Vici' by Katell Keineg, countless songs by Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura, and 'Be My Baby', the Vanessa Paradis hit written by Lenny Kravitz.
We mention the classic '60s French sound because it's revisited in a wonderful new record by a Parisian band. 'Sugar Sugar' is the second album by Diving With Andy (right), a trio comprising singer Juliette Paquereau and multi-instrumentalists Julien Perraudeau and Rémy Galichet. While there's no killer chorus or earworm hook in any of the songs here, their subtle melodies and arrangements are sufficiently charming to hold your attention from first track to last. In particular, Paquereau's soft croon and tender, thoughtful lyrics are quite lovely. The whole package reminds us of the aforementioned 'Histoire De Melody Nelson'.
Our highlight is 'Merry Dance', a wistful little thing that cleverly expresses barely-suppressed heartbreak and regret with a gently swirling tune and poetic lyrics that play on images of dancing: it begins "Should I ever lead you/My steps would never deceive you". 'Astral Weeks' gets a mention on 'You Don't Have To Cry', a poppier tune loaded with references to England, making mundane placenames like Liverpool and Northampton sound as exotic as they must have done to '60s French fans of imported British pop. (This reminds us that Melody Nelson was from that mystical north-eastern city, Sunderland.)
Listen to songs from 'Sugar Sugar' on Diving With Andy's MySpace page. The title track was a recent single and it's rather lovely too - here's the video: