The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Blogs

From 2007 to 2010 CLUAS hosted blogs written by 8 of its writers. Over 900 blog entries were published in that time, all of which you can browse here. Here are links to the 8 individual blogs:

02

Do you remember how we were talking about Yann Tiersen and his soundtrack to 'Amélie' and another album of his called 'L'Absente' which was like a darker vision of the film music? You do.

And do you remember how we told you that Neil Hannon collaborated with Tiersen on 'Les Jours Tristes', which appeared on both albums? You do again. Haven't you a great memory?

Yann Tiersen and Neil Hannon Black SessionWell, it wasn't the first time that these two played together. Two years before 'Amélie', in 1999, Tiersen released a live album called 'Black Session' (right, with the bad album art). It was recorded at the Transmusicales festival in Rennes for a radio show on France Inter called 'C'est Lenoir', still the best music show on the French airwaves.

(The Black Sessions are the show's regular live concerts, usually staged and broadcast from the Radio France studios near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The title is a play on the name of the presenter, Bernard Lenoir, 'noir' being the French for 'black'. When the show invites an artist for an acoustic performance without an audience, the result is a White Session. You can hear past Black Sessions and White Sessions on the C'est Lenoir homepage.)

For this show Tiersen invited a variety of singers to join him, mostly French vocalists like Dominique A and Mathieu Boogaerts and (urgh!) Bertrand Cantat of Noir Désir. And Neil Hannon popped up too.

The Divine Comedy man sings two songs. First, he performs his own 'Geronimo' from the 'Promenade' album. Then, joined by a string quartet and with Tiersen on toy piano, Hannon sings David Bowie's 'Life On Mars'.

And here's the proof, below and at this link (as the embedded video seems a bit unstable). From the Transmusicales Festival in Rennes in 1999, broadcast on C'est Lenoir on France Inter and released on the album 'Black Session', here are Neil Hannon and Yann Tiersen with their version of 'Life On Mars':


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30

Here's a beautiful little tune that's also a bit mysterious and maybe even romantic. We shall explain:

There's a girl musician called Luna and a boy musician called Miras Manus. We don't know anything about Luna and only very little about Miras Manus: he's from Brittany and he has both a blog and a MySpace page. Both acts have featured on CQFD, the new bands community website run by leading French music/culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles. On Miras Manus' MySpace is a track called 'Quietly Burning', a rather glum bit of shoegazing indie. (His other tracks are electronic and more enjoyable.) So far so what, says you.

LunamiraWell, it seems that Luna and Miras Manus have joined forces and become Lunamira. We don't know if they've gone the whole hog and are actually doing kissing and holding and arguing about household cleaning yet. (They haven't: see Luna's comment below.) We haven't even found a picture of them, apart from their CQFD avatar (right). All we know is that they've recorded a track together - which happens to be a new version of 'Quietly Burning'.

And oh! The difference that Luna makes! Suddenly this dour, plodding demo becomes something dreamy and melodic and as romantic as its title. The drumming is tighter, the guitar chimes and a neat little bass riff comes in after around 45 seconds. The male voice (Miras Manus?) now sings like he's lifted up his head and seen the night sky for the first time. And a female voice (Luna?) joins him on the chorus, which now lifts off gently like a hot air balloon. The whole thing is understated and subtle, but very memorable indeed.

(If there isn't love happening, Lunamira, please excuse us for our overactive imagination.)

You can hear the excellent 'Quietly Burning' by Lunamira at their profile page on the CQFD site.


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28

Irish Web Awards 2009Last week it was announced that 26 sites were in consideration for the category of "Best Music Site" at the Irish Web Awards 2009, and CLUAS was one of them.

The 26 sites has now been whittled down to 11 and I was pleased to see CLUAS.com is one of them. The full list of sites now in consideration is:

As you  can see we are in fine company. The winner will be announced on 10 October at a ceremony in the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Dublin. Best of luck to all those who made the final 11.


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26

Even if you don't read La Blogothèque you may be familiar with their series of Takeaway Shows - Vincent Moon's films of hip indie acts busking or playing impromptu concerts around Paris. The series has inspired variants around the world.

A quiet night in with Bon IverLately, though, the Takeaway Shows have lost their central concept of spontaneous public performance. This summer there have been sessions recorded backstage at festivals, an altogether more exclusive and controllable environment. And Moon seems to have jumped the shark by featuring Tom Jones in the latter's New York hotel room - the whole thing feels contrived and cynical.

Now La Blogothèque has come up with a new video series, Les Soirées de Poche (loosely translated as 'intimate/pocket-sized evenings'). Quite simply, the idea is to film indie artists playing for a few people in the home of an ordinary Paris person. (We're not sure how this person is chosen and we're a little cynical about how 'ordinary' he/she may be, but we'll let that pass for the moment.)

Where the Takeaway Shows have a hand-held DIY feel, Les Soirées de Poche have more serious production values. The concerts are carefully staged - the films have soft lighting, multiple cameras, perfect sound and lingering close-ups. Franco-German cultural channel Arte are involved, hence their logo in the top left corner of the videos.

So far the series has featured Bon Iver (right), Patrick Watson, Ron Sexsmith, Beirut and Herman Dune.

But here's our favourite to date: Andrew Bird and St Vincent together in the same punter's apartment. (The film is 30 minutes long and every second of that is enthralling.) Thanks to Lihan for telling us about it - Château French Letter is available for any future shows:

 


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25

Two of cinema's most famous female pin-ups were born only a week apart in September 1934, which means that each lady celebrates her 75th birthday around now.

Brigitte BardotSophia Loren hit the three-quarter-century last Sunday, 20 September. (We mentioned her recently on this blog because of 'Locomotion', the fantastic debut single from a Paris soul-pop band called The Sophia Lorenians.) And Brigitte Bardot (right) will clock up soixante-quinze on Monday 28 September.

One feels that Loren's legacy is more substantial that Bardot's. The Italian is an Oscar winner who proved her acting credentials in those iconic 1960s on-screen partnerships with Marcello Mastroianni in 'Marriage Italian Style' and 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow'. By contrast, Bardot's fame lies in her 1950s image as a sensual provocateur and sex symbol, like in 'Et Dieu Créa La Femme' and 'Le Mépris', but hardly as a great actress. (In this regard she has a lot in common with Marilyn Monroe.) Today she lives in semi-reclusion, having ended her film career in 1973.

What's more, Bardot's activities of recent years have metaphorically isolated her as much as her reclusive lifestyle. She is an outspoken and combative defender of animal rights, often breaking her reclusion to condemn countries like Canada and China for the hunting and killing of endangered animals. Her iconic status ensures that such statements still make the headlines.

More controversially, on a number of occasions she has been convicted for incitement to racial hatred, based on statements in articles and books where she complained about the increasing Muslim population of France. (Her current husband, Bernard d'Ormal, is a former adviser to Jean Marie Le Pen's far-right Front National party.)

Ironically, Bardot's reputation may get a boost from her musical career. We say 'ironically' because, quite simply, she can't sing. But her monotonous vocals have featured on some of the most influential pop singles ever made - her mid-'60s songs with or by Serge Gainsbourg. These records have received new attention lately thanks to the current collaboration between Scarlett Johannson and Pete Yorn, which both parties say is inspired by the Gainsbourg-Bardot double act.

Gainsbourg started writing singles for Bardot when she was appearing in her own 1960s variety show on French television. Some of the songs - like 'Harley Davidson' and 'Contact' - feature Bardot alone, her attitude and sex appeal compensating for her modest singing ability. Other songs, like 'Comic Strip', saw the great man share vocal duties with her. If these singles were any more Swinging Sixties they'd be dressed as Austin Powers.

Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg in 1967But the high-water-mark of their partnership was the 1968 album 'Bonnie And Clyde'. Inspired by/cashing in on the hit movie of the previous year, Gainsbourg and Bardot (left) cast themselves as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway's glamorous outlaws. The best-known song is the title track, which also appeared on Gainsbourg's other 1968 album, 'Initials B.B.' (That album's title track is also justly celebrated, but Bardot doesn't appear on it even if it's named for her.)

Even if you have no knowledge of or interest in French music, the song 'Bonnie And Clyde' should be recognisable to you. With its cold-blooded glamour and distinctive instrument parts, it has been covered, sampled and imitated on records and advertisement soundtracks. The acoustic guitar chord sequence, swarm-of-bees string arrangements and wobble-board backing vocals make for a twitchy, unstable mix of tension and eccentricity. It sounds like nothing else in pop music.

Gainsbourg recites each verse couplet like a bard glorifying a legendary hero, then croons the pre-chorus and chorus with defiant fatalism. Bardot, in acting jargon, gets less lines than her co-star - she doesn't appear until the middle of the second verse and by the second chorus her only contribution has been to say her character's name twice. But her entrance ("Bow-nee", she drawls) is a scene-stealer and her monotone perfectly suits the song's tone and theme. She gets a key line, "On pretend que nous tuons de sang-froid" ("They claim we kill in cold blood"), and delivers it with the jaded indifference that the lyric implies.

Here's the Scopitone video, where the pair play the eponymous fugitive bank robbers. It's clear here that the better singer is also the better actor: 


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23

'We weren't Spanish. We just liked crowns!'

That's the message greeting visitors to the Future Kings of Spain Myspace page this morning.  In fairness, I've heard rumours of the band's demise for more than a month now but, to see it become official, makes Key Notes feel very sad.  For years they were, by a long way, my favourite Irish band and, while my musical tastes have changed over the years, they remained a band whose records would always be on my mp3 player and whose gigs I would always keep an eye out for.

I still have very fond memories of my first time seeing the Kings.  They were supporting Biffy Clyro in the Temple Bar Music Centre and, aside from my future wife and brother-in-law, the only other people there were members of Snow Patrol and JJ72.  It was one of those nights where you know you're witnessing something special and you just wish that there were more people there to see it too.  That night, the Kings blew Biffy off the stage and I was hooked.

They were also some of the nicest blokes you could meet in music.  Key Notes interviewed lead singer Joey Wilson and drummer Bryan McMahon in advance of reviewing their sophomore album, Nervousystem.  What was supposed to be a 20 minute interview turned in to a two hour discussion about everything including table tennis, diabetic chocolate and fictional TV detectives and continued into the night when this blog and Joe O'Shea (of Seoige & O'Shea) ended up discussing the appearance of sea monkeys on his wikipedia page.  It was, to quote the youth of today, random.  As far as interview material went, most of it was unusable and would result in this site being sued for several million Euro, but it did give me a much better insight into what the album was really all about and helped to colour (though, of course, not influence) my review.

It's always sad when your favourite bands call it a day but, I suppose, you always have their music to remember them by.  The Future Kings of Spain leave behind two great albums and a fantastic EP, Les Debemos.  My favourite Kings' song will always be Meanest Sound but the best thing they ever wrote was surely Syndicate which also had a pretty cool video.

Future Kings of Spain: Syndicate

The Kings are Dead, Long Live The Kings. Adios.


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21

Back in 2006 we had high praise for French singer-songer Emilie Simon. Her album of that year, 'Végétal', was a fine collection of understated and charming electro-pop - and we particularly loved her derrière-kicking single 'Fleur De Saison', a rare example of a brilliant French-language rock song (as distinct from an electro or pop song).

Emilie SimonBefore that, she made her breakthrough in France for her soundtrack to the original version of wintry nature documentary 'La Marche De L'Empereur', though her music wasn't used in the English version, 'March Of The Penguins'.

Simon (right) has just released her third studio album, 'The Big Machine', and it's quite good. While 'Végétal' had hints of Kate Bush about it, 'The Big Machine' 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.

Simon's voice is remarkably similar to Bush's - the same flighty, arabesque upper register that tilts towards a slightly squeaky falsetto. Added to this, the lyrics on 'The Big Machine' are in English. (She now lives and works in New York, as recounted in this album's 'Chinatown'.)

We only hope that she won't mind the constant comparisons to La Bush. But then, there are worse fates in life than being compared favourably to a bona fide pop genius.

Aside from the Kate Bush similarities, there's a lot to enjoy on 'The Big Machine'. Simon can certainly write strong, catchy tunes with satisfying choruses - we reckon these songs will sound great live. (No Irish or UK shows for her at the time of writing - yet another similarity to Kate Bush. Sorry; we'll stop that.)

You can listen to 'The Big Machine' in full for free here on Deezer, and there are tracks on Emilie Simon's website and MySpace page. Our favourites are 'The Cycle', the 'Babooshka'-esque 'Ballad Of The Big Machine' - and the lead-off single from the album, the very '80s 'Dreamland':


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20

The Friday and Saturday night headliners for Hard Working Class Heroes 2009 have been announced.  Conor O'Brien and his Villagers will headline Andrew's Lane Theatre on Friday October 16 while Fionn Regan will conclude proceedings on Saturday October 17 in The Button Factory.

Those of you who haven't managed to get your hands on Villagers' stunning Hollow Kind EP are really missing out.  O'Brien, formerly of The Immediate, is a songwriter of extraordinary talent, capable of inducing the entire spectrum of emotions in his listeners.  His appearance at this years HWCH will coincide with the launch of Villagers' new single, On a Sunlit Stage.  If the man can sound this good in a bathroom, you should hear him live, with a full band!

Villagers: On a Sunlit Stage

Also announced for this year's HWCH is former Mercury nominee, Fionn Regan.  There will be those amongst Key Notes' readers who will be wondering what Regan has been up to since the release of 2007's critically acclaimed The End of History.  Well, the good news is that the follow up, The Shadow of an Empire, is due for release in 2010, through Universal.

Fionn Regan: Be Good or Be Gone

As mentioned already, Hard Working Class Heroes 2009 takes place over the course of October 16,17 & 18.  Featuring 99 Irish bands, tickets are available from Tickets.ie and usual outlets for €40 (weekend) or €18.50 (daily).  Key Notes will be running a feature on the bands he is looking forward to seeing, closer to the event so keep and eye out for that.


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19

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with how we rave about Emily Loizeau. Her awesome 2006 debut album, 'L'Autre Bout Du Monde', was stuffed with brilliant piano-pop tunes that swung between joyous optimism and dark melancholy, sometimes even in the same song. It's quite similar in style, mood and quality to Duke Special's equally-brilliant 'Songs From The Deep Forest', and the two have appeared on stage together in Paris and Belfast.

Emily Loizeau 'Pays Sauvage'Loizeau's second album, 'Pays Sauvage', came out in France earlier this year and looks likely to get a UK and Ireland release this autumn in support of her series of British concerts. (No news yet of an Irish show.)

With Loizeau's second record comes those dreaded words: new direction. For the most part, 'Pays Sauvage' is an album of French-and-American-flavoured folk songs, like a Parisian music-hall revue camping in the Appalachians. The piano is gone: the dominant sounds are acoustic guitars, flutes and hand-held percussion. Brief snatches of children's voices are heavy signals of the innocence and playfulness that this album aims to capture. (The title translates as 'natural/unspoilt country'.) Nouveau folkies like Herman Dune and Moriarty are guests.

Loizeau's new style has influenced her songwriting. The tracks on her debut had carefully-crafted melodies where verses built up pressure that was released in dramatic choruses - but these new songs are altogether looser in structure. First single 'Sister' feels like a fireside singalong, while 'Fais Battre Ton Tambour' (which translates as 'Beat Your Tambourine') has a call-and-response format. And the title track dashes around dramatically like a modern dance troupe running to one side of the stage and then back again.

So is it any good? Well... hmmmmmm. Loizeau's effervescent personality still shines through, while her voice - sometimes clear and piercing, other times understated and intimate - is rich in character and unforced emotional strength. And fair play to her for having the courage to change her sound so radically.

But we have two major reservations about this album:

First, the bohemian folk-pop sound is a bit fashionable in France these days. Everyone's at it. As well as the aforementioned Herman Dune and Moriarty, you have Cocoon and Yael Naim enjoying huge success. (In fact, listening to 'Pays Sauvage' and looking at its cover photo reminds us of Naim's single 'New Soul' and its happy-clappy, hippy-drippy video.) Our point is that her debut album sounded like none of her peers but her second album sounds like quite a lot of her peers. Perhaps inadvertently, Loizeau has hitched her trailer to a bandwagon.

Second, with the relaxed vibe of her new acoustic folk sound, it feels like the hard work of songwriting craft has been neglected. The songs on 'Pays Sauvage' are all decent and often good - but nowhere near the quality of her debut tracks and their strong, soaring melodies and hooks. Compare 'Pays Sauvage' to another 2009 folk-flavoured second album, Alela Diane's 'To Be Still'. The young American has progressed from the ramshackle shanties of her likeable debut to the towering and carefully-built songs of her magnificent new record, without losing anything from her style or personality. By contrast, Loizeau seems to have made the reverse trip - from artisanship back to rough improvisation.

This follow-up is a decent album but Loizeau had set the bar much higher for herself with that fantastic debut. Unfortunately, 'Pays Sauvage' is a mis-step.

You can listen to tracks from 'Pays Sauvage' on Emily Loizeau's MySpace page. Here's the video for 'Sister':


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17

Your correspondent is still a young man and reluctant to sound like an old fogey. But we remember when being number one in the UK singles charts seemed to mean something. It didn't necessarily mean that the single was any good - just that it had seeped into the mainstream consciousness enough to reach that milestone. Today, 'UK number one single' doesn't have the same air of cultural significance that it had even in Ireland. There are a number of possible reasons for this, commercial and technological and sociological, but the most likely is that when Westlife do something 14 times and Boyzone six times it no longer feels like something worth doing.

F*** me I'm number one in the UK and Ireland!: David GuettaSo far in 2009 a Frenchman has done it twice. Superstar DJ David Guetta (right) topped both the UK and Irish charts for the first time in June with 'When Love Takes Over', featuring Kelly Rowland on vocals. He repeated the UK part of that trick in August with Akon up front, on 'Sexy Chick', which at the time of writing has not made number one in Ireland.

While French footballers have thrived cross-channel, their pop counterparts seem to struggle as soon as they hit Dover - or even when they continue on to Rosslare. Guetta is only the fourth French artist to take a song to the UK number one spot, which means that only five Gallic singles have topped Her Majesty's charts. In Ireland too only five French singles have gone to uimhir a h-aon - but not always the same songs that reached Britain's top position. Seeing as you asked, here they are.

You should know the first because it's one of the most notorious singles ever: 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Banned by the BBC because of Birkin's suggestive sound effects on the fade-out (the lyrics are relatively unerotic and in any case are in French), it went to number one in Britain on 7 October 1969 for one week, having stalled at number two in Ireland the previous month. A throwaway composition originally recorded with Brigitte Bardot, it was Gainsbourg's only hit in the UK - a matter of frustration for an anglophile who recorded most of his classic late-60s songs in London. The great man is therefore, from a British point of view, just a one-hit-wonder - and only then because of his British partner's non-musical contribution.

'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' is remarkable for another piece of UK chart trivia. It was originally pressed and released in Britain by Fontana Records, who got scared by the subsequent controversy and dropped the single despite the fact that it had reached number two in the charts. Gainsbourg arranged to have the single re-released on the small Major Minor label, and it's this latter edition that made the final ascent to number one. But there were still enough copies of the Fontana release on sale for that version to linger lower in the charts while the Major Minor edition was on top. So, 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin is the only single to occupy two places in the same week's UK chart. (Remember that for some future pub quiz.)

The next French chart-topper was much less controversial - but perhaps also less French because it's in English. In the summer of 1974 'She' by old-school crooner Charles Aznavour spent four weeks at number one in Britain and one week in Ireland. You may know the song from Elvis Costello's version on the soundtrack to 'Notting Hill'. Aznavour, a likeable sort with a distinctive warbling voice, was already (and still is) a star in France and had a sizeable international following - but, oddly, 'She' wasn't a success in his home country. He now lives in Switzerland: his parents were Armenian and he is Armenia's ambassador to Switzerland and delegate to the United Nations in Geneva.

No French single topped the UK charts during the 1980s. But in Ireland we had two French number ones that decade. However, be we French or Irish, let's not get too proud here. In mid-October 1981 our number one single was 'Hands Up' by Ottowan, whose other big hit was 'D.I.S.C.O'. Ottowan's singles were co-written and produced by Daniel Vangarde - who happens to be the father of Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk. The royalties from Ottowan's hits no doubt kept young Thomas in pocket money for synthesisers and music lessons: without 'D.I.S.C.O.' by Ottowan there might never have been Daft Punk.

Incredibly, the second French number one in Ireland during the 1980s is much worse: ghastly synth-ballad 'Words' by F.R. David spent a shocking five weeks as our official favourite song in 1983. But then perhaps some French marketing guy had done his research, found that we were the country of Chris de Burgh and simply let us have it.

There was no French chart success on either island during the late '80s and most of the 1990s. Both Black Box, with 1989's 'Ride On Time', and Eiffel 65, makers of the irritating chart-topper 'Blue', were Italian groups sometimes mistakenly considered French. (Black Box's French frontperson, Catherine Quinol, was later revealed to have been miming Milli Vanilli-style to session singers.) A near miss on both sides of the Irish Sea was the 1998 hit 'Music Sounds Better With You' by Stardust, a side project of (hey!) Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk.

Finally, in March 1999, a French act ruled Britannia (but not Hibernia) again - though under strange circumstances. 'Flat Beat' by Parisian DJ Mr Oizo ('pronounced 'wazzo' like the French word for 'bird', 'oiseau') was featured in a jeans commercial starring a furry yellow puppet called Flat Eric. This was the period when the soundtrack songs of this brand's ads were guaranteed to top the charts. And the title 'Flat Beat' is a perfect description of this numbingly repetitive track.

Modjo: rising to number one in 2000Mr Oizo is still making music. Last year he released an album called 'Lamb's Anger', the cover of which featured Flat Eric having his eyeball slit open by a razor blade. Strange, indeed.

France didn't have to wait very long for its first UK and Irish number one of the 21st century. In September 2000 Modjo (left) topped both charts with the catchy dancefloor pop of 'Lady' (video at the end of this article), built around a sample from 'Soup For One' by the mighty Chic. Modjo were a Parisian duo: Romain Tranchart making the music and Yann Destagnol providing the vocals. They followed up 'Lady' with an album but never enjoyed the same success again.

And that brings us up to 2009 and Guetta's chart-toppers.

No French act has yet had a UK number one album - Daft Punk's 'Discovery' got to number two in 2000, while Guetta's current album 'One Love' has so far peaked at number two as well. But Air's 'Talkie Walkie' was Ireland's number one album for two weeks in early 2004.

(UK chart statistics courtesy of www.theofficialcharts.com; Irish chart statistics courtesy of www.irishcharts.ie, a fantastic resource that has the seal of approval from the great Larry Gogan. All hail Larry.)

We've already featured 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' on this blog before so here's 'Lady' by Modjo, which we find rather charming:


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Nuggets from our archive

2007 - REM live in the Olympia, by Michael O'Hara. Possibly the definitive review of any of REM's performances during their 2007 Olympia residency. Even the official REM website linked to it.