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:

04

Dateline: crack of dawn last Saturday morning. While you were snuggled up all warm in bed, your Seine-side correspondent staggered sleepily across town, up to the Gare du Nord and onto a train. Two hours later, we arrived at St Pancras station. That's how easy it is to go from Paris to London.

It was actually your blogger's first time there. The immediate reason for our long-overdue London debut was a match of rugby at Twickenham, so it was certainly a successful trip. But London made a big impression.

Paris is probably the most beautiful city in the world - and Paris knows it. The French capital can feel quite uptight and self-conscious, as if every Parisian believes he or she lives in the cold-blooded glamour of a fashion show. The sheer beauty of the place can be intimidating, like when you visit someone's new home and fear leaving mud on their carpet. Waiters and customer service staff demand respect for their authority, and the omnipresent French flags suggest an irritation with anything different or foreign. It's hard work to relax in Paris.

By contrast, London was warm and human. Its streets feel practical and lived in, like a comfortable pair of shoes. Compared to the hassle of Paris cafés, London pubs are blissful and kind. And even its monuments are idiosyncratic - despite their functionality and familiarity, Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament still seem so odd.

Pop music gives us proof of London's warmth and Paris's cold. There are hardly any French pop songs about Paris - certainly nothing contemporary or cool. Rap acts may rap about Paris - but only as political commentary, not as praise.

By contrast, London has been apotheosised in countless songs by its natives and residents. Waterloo Station and the nearby bridge are quite unremarkable, yet Ray Davies featured them in one of pop's most poetic songs. The Clash, The Jam, Madness and Blur have added their own layers to London's pop mythology by singing of ordinary places like Camden Town, the Tube, Hammersmith and Primrose Hill. (Of course, Paris has no pop/rock anthem to match 'London Calling'.)

Paris has inspired great painting, literature and classical music - but it has no great pop music. North American songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Stephin Merritt use Paris as shorthand for artistic freedom and old-fashioned romance respectively, but those are outsider images with little relevance to daily life Seine-side. The city's only native pop genius, Serge Gainsbourg, recorded his classic late-'60s records - including 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' - in London and filled his lyrics with American pop culture references. There's very little of Paris in Serge's masterworks. And as we've pointed out before, the entire 'French Touch' wave of mid-'90s indietronic culture - Daft Punk, Air, Michel Gondry, Phoenix - come from Versailles. 

Why is Paris so poor for pop? Well, it might be due to that intimidating air of cold-blooded glamour we mentioned earlier. Pop music is democratic and open-minded and human and un-self-conscious and fun - and Paris is none of these things. But London seems to have these qualities in abundance, hence it's the pop capital of the world.

So, is your correspondent in the wrong city? Well, that's a question for another time... Anyway, thinking of London and the future leads us nicely to four lads from Colchester who made a classic London single and video - here's Blur with 'For Tomorrow':


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03

The Courteeners have stormed back into the consciousness of indie fans with their impeccable second album ‘Falcon’. They’ve created a distance between the Oasis style lad-rock that was so prevalent on their debut ‘St. Jude’, which has the potential to get them a much larger audience. Like almost every indie band in the land they’ve got strings on this album, but only as a subtle addition to the foot-stomping and energetic guitars and drums which blaze throughout. If you thought ‘St. Jude’ was good, then you’ll be blown away by ‘Falcon’.

Besides the fascinating photography the CD booklet is adorned with, there’s an album of consistently interesting and attention-grabbing tracks. The aptly titled opening track ‘The Opener’ details front man Liam Fray’s love for his hometown of Manchester, while their latest single ‘You Over Did It Doll’ makes a cross over into a previously unseen side of The Courteeners, primarily due to the dance style of the song. It’s something which could easily be considered quite bizarre, but they’ve got it right on point. The whole album is collection of thoughtful and heartfelt tracks, but mainly with an upbeat tempo. ‘Falcon’ easily has the potential to be one of the best albums of 2010.

In other news the NME Awards took place in London’s Brixton Academy last week hosted by the ever affable Jarvis Cocker. As per usual there was a shortage of Irish acts getting a look-in. However, Villagers’ recent signing to the legendary Domino label may just change that. Paul Weller was awarded the ‘Godlike Genius’ award and people with mullets everywhere rejoiced at the possibility that he just might make them fashionable again. On the live performances front there was a staggering collaboration between Biffy Clyro and Marina & the Diamonds on ‘Many of Horror’.  Have a look at the surprisingly suited collaboration below:


 


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02

One of our favourite French acts are John & Jehn (right).

John & JehnWe've told you about them before - a French couple living in London and making dark, swaggering electro-rock. John plays Velvet Underground-style scuzzed-down '50s riffs on his guitar, while Jehn looks after the cool Roxy Music-esque analogue synths. We found their first album charming and simple. But then at the Solidays festival last summer we saw them live for the first time - they were sexy and sensational.

Their second album is due out at the end of March. It's called 'Time For The Devil' and is preceded by a single of the same name.

Well, it's clear that your correspondent is not the only fan of John & Jehn - their new label Naive has clearly been spending money on them. Compared to the home-made feel of their debut, 'Time For The Devil' (the song) has top-of-the-range studio production values.

However, the song is rather slight - all atmosphere, little in the way of a memorable tune. Only Jehn's Siouxsie-esque chorus vocal hook lifts this track out of the relegation places and into mid-table safety. (For his part, John sounds like Ian McCulloch and the track has that rich and doom-laden Echo and the Bunnymen vibe.)

'Time For The Devil' (the album) will be launched with a special show at La Maroquinerie in Paris on 29 March - your correspondent hopes to be there. As we said above, this pair are great live so we'll have a better impression of their new material then.

You can get a taster of John & Jehn's new album by watching this trailer for it. As for the single, here's the video for 'Time For The Devil':


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23

Despite the impression we give in this blog, the most celebrated music venue in Paris is not La Flèche d'Or or La Maroquinerie. Though it may seem strange to us, those busloads of tourists much prefer to visit the Opéra.

The Opéra in Paris

The Opéra (right) is not the only opera house in Paris. Nearby is the Opéra Comique, a charming little roundhouse. Over at Bastille, a modern venue of that name is equally large but ugly like a financial services centre. The Opéra we're talking about is actually called the Opéra Garnier, named after its architect. When you say "the Opéra" in Paris, everyone assumes you mean this one.

In a city whose architectural landmarks know no restraint, the Opéra is particularly over-the-top - a Venn diagram where 'architecture' overlaps with 'wedding-cake'. (In fact, there's a small chocolate cake called an Opéra.) Seen when you're coming up from the metro station of the same name, it looms like an airship. As with many famous Paris buildings, only by walking around it can you appreciate how enormous it is. Commissioned in the mid-19th century, it symbolises the ostentatious wealth of Paris under the restored Empire. The surrounding streets, with their lines of black balcony railings, were designed by Baron Haussmann, architect of the quintessential Paris avenues and boulevards.

Paris in the time of Charles Garnier and Haussman was turbulent, to say the least. (The Avenue de l'Opéra - long, wide and slashed by narrow, angled streets - was specifically designed so that the army could outflank any barricade in the area.) By the time the Opéra was finally completed, in 1875, the Second Empire of Louis Napoléon had been ousted by the Commune, the Prussians and the Third Republic. To attend performances in the Opéra he built, Garnier had to buy a ticket.

Invited by a friend with a spare ticket to sell, your correspondent went to the Opéra recently.

It may be hard to believe, but the inside is even more extravagant than the outside. Marble, gold leaf, hardwood, chandeliers - we found it far more impressive than the chateau of Versailles. The concert hall features Chagall's famous painted ceiling - renowned composers and their works represented in daubs of bright, childlike colour. Most exciting of all is the breathtaking view from the front balcony down the avenue, which makes you feel like a lord or lady looking down on the poor people below. No wonder the people revolted.

These days, ordinary citizens can come to the Opéra too - there are some tickets available for 10 euros. However, you actually don't see the show from those seats. Of the Opéra's 2,500 or so seats, many of them only have partial views from behind pillars or balcony edges. Those ten euro seats are at the back of a box - but the people who buy them mostly come just for the music or for the experience of being inside the Opéra. Our seats were at the front of a box, but we still only saw about 70% of the stage.

We saw 'La Dame Aux Camélias', a recent ballet made from an Alexandre Dumas short story and compositions by Chopin. (France's other favourite adopted Pole besides Marie Curie, Chopin was born exactly two hundred years ago. He's buried in Père Lachaise - except for his heart, which is in a church in Warsaw.) Those ten euro punters got lucky - the orchestra's pianist gave a marvellous show. For the rest of us, the on-stage show was extravagantly beautiful.

Only by seeing live ballet do you realise how the apparent grace of the dancers hides the incredible physical demands on them. Walk on your tiptoes for five minutes and see how you feel; now imagine dancing, spinning and landing on them for an hour. Your marathon-running blogger marvels (and winces) at the strain a top ballerina puts on every tendon and ligament in her legs. Our trip to the Opéra was very educational indeed.

The Opéra in Paris is most famous because of a musical from London. Yes, a lot of those tourists are actually fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'The Phantom Of The Opera', based on Gaston Leroux's classic French novel about a disfigured man lurking in and under this same venue. (Your correspondent didn't see any phantoms at the Opéra that night. West End musicals - don't trust 'em!) So, here are Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley with its appallingly naff theme song - just for the hilariously awful video. Look out, mullety man!


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22

So, first on the agenda is the sassy, strong and stunning all female choir Gaggle. I interviewed the front woman of Gaggle a few months ago and since then Gaggle have signed to the Transgressive label (home to a certain Graham Coxon) and are releasing a single entitled ‘I Hear Flies’, the mesmerising video for which can be found here. They’ve received glowing reviews for their live performances, their live show has yet to hit Irish shores but considering how much their profile is raising it’s probably only a matter of time.

Meanwhile Dev Hynes, AKA Lightspeed Champion, has recently released his second solo album ‘Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You.’, and it’s available to stream for a limited time here. It’s a strange yet appealing concoction of various different genres - he jumps from dance to soulful in the space of a few minutes. It all is, of course, well worth a listen. And it certainly doesn’t hurt when it’s being streamed for free.

Back on Irish shores Valerie Francis' astounding debut ‘Slow Dynamo’ has been nominated for the Choice Music Awards, and she was nominated in the Best Irish Female category at the Meteor’s this year, and deservedly so. To get a taster of what perfectly crafted and beautifully expressive acoustic music should sound like then mosey on over to her MySpace here.

Lastly, Welsh songstress Marina Diamandis, better known as the front woman of Marina and the Diamonds, has recently released her debut album ‘The Family Jewels’ and it’s already been certified Silver in the UK. Packed full of catchy tunes, including her most recent single off the album, ‘Hollywood’, and the infectious ‘I Am Not A Robot’ it’s a must for any shameless pop fan. In order to introduce you to the world of Marina and the Diamonds, for the uninitiated here’s the video for ‘I Am Not A Robot.’

 

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17

Last summer we brought you on-site reports and reviews from La Route du Rock, the brilliant alt-music festival that takes place in Saint Malo every mid-August.

La Route du Rock, winter/hiver 2010

There are actually two annual La Route du Rock festivals - the 'summer' festival in August is complemented by a 'winter' version in February. And so La Route du Rock Collection Hiver ('winter collection' - how fashionable and French) 2010 happens this weekend, 19-21 February. (In France, winter ends and spring begins on 21 March.) The main venue is L'Omnibus on the outskirts of Saint Malo.

Like its summer counterpart, the winter version of La Route du Rock has a line-up that's bursting with concentrated indie goodness. Here's Friday evening's bill of fare at L'Omnibus: Fiery Furnaces, Beach House, Jackie O Motherfucker and The Horrors.

But check out Saturday night's running order: Clues, Shearwater, The XX, Local Natives and Clara Clara. Same night, same venue, same bill, one after the other - isn't that a fantastic line-up?

Update: The XX have cancelled their appearance at La Route du Rock, following the death of singer Romy Madley Croft's father. Their place will be taken by These New Puritans, who supported The XX at their magnificent Paris show last Thursday.

Sunday afternoon is less busy but no less impressive - The Tallest Man On Earth will be playing in the atmospheric surroundings of the Chapelle Saint-Sauveur. (Yes, it's a gig in a church.)

Another interesting event during the festival weekend is a special Saturday afternoon screening of films from the Takeaway Shows, Vincent Moon's influential series of impromptu performances.

If you're thinking of a quick dash to Saint Malo this weekend, forget it - the festival is sold out. You'll just have to wait for the summer festival in August... keep an eye on this blog for the first confirmed details of this year's acts.

Here's one of the bands from that cracking show in Saint Malo this Saturday - Local Natives with 'Airplanes', from a recent BBC session:


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15

Last Saturday was another rough night at the Stade de France for Irish sport, as our rugby team lost badly to a French side that's good but hardly great. Your correspondent was there, shivering with cold and shuddering in despair beside the visiting CLUAS Album Review Air Traffic Controller (in Paris for an inspection of operations at Chateau French Letter).

As ever, though, national pride has been restored by Ireland's pop stars - always good for the Seine-side win that ever eludes our football and rugby heroes.

We mention regularly here Les Inrockuptibles, the weekly music and culture magazine with a quintessentially French taste for florid prose. Die-hard devotees of The Divine Comedy, in recent times Les Inrocks have given the rave to Duke Special, Carly Sings and Adrian Crowley.

French revolutions per minute: Magic RPM, February 2010

Another music publication carried at all times in our CLUAS Foreign Correspondent Diplomatic Pouch is Magic RPM (right). A monthly magazine devoted entirely to alternative music, its title acronym stands for 'Revue Pop Moderne'. Modern pop: yes, please!

Magic RPM is excellent. For one thing, their writers have some strange trick of writing French prose that's simple yet intelligent and witty. Also, the magazine's review section has ambitious scope - the February edition has a whopping 66 albums getting substantive and considered critiques.

Two of this month's sixty-six are Irish - Fionn Regan's 'The Shadow Of An Empire' and 'Tourist History' by Two Door Cinema Club. Each gets a fair and informed review that backs up the final rating (out of six, rather idiosyncratically).

First up, Fionn Regan. Reviewer Vincent Théval falls in with the general reaction to the Wicklow man's second album - a comparison to Dylan going electric. He isn't impressed by the opening songs, calling them "a set of knives without a blade".

However, the man from Magic RPM much prefers the record's home stretch, in particular "a trio of sublime ballads": 'Little Nancy', 'Lord Help My Poor Soul' and the title track.

A 'non' to the first half and 'oui' to the second - that makes a final score of three out of six for Fionn Regan, with the consolation of high praise for a handful of tracks. If you read French, check out the full review here.

Two Door Cinema Club also receive an obvious comparison from their reviewer, Thomas Schwoerer, who reckons the "excellent" single 'Something Good Can Work' "sounds like Phoenix south of the equator". (That'll be an allusion to Vampire Weekend's world-pop, then.) The review praises the Down lads for their "sense of catchy melody and killer chorus" that delivers an album "to bring a smile to the lips". Overall, Schwoerer remarks on the band's "naive and juvenile" sound but ultimately finds in favour of "these three boys that we'll surely hear a lot this year".

And the scores? Four out of six for Two Door Cinema Club, continuing their successful experience in France. Unfortunately, the full review isn't online.

So, plenty of much-merited positive comments for the two Irish acts in Magic RPM this month. G'wan Oirland! Here's Fionn Regan with the unquestionably Dylan-goes-electric 'Protection Racket':


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12

It’s no secret that a lot of bands find making their second album more nerve-wracking than their first, for a multitude of reasons. After the initial high of actually releasing their debut, and depending on how successful it was, there’s the fear that it will never match the acclaim of their debut. Arctic Monkeys are a prime example of this, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was the UK’s fastest selling debut album, reached number 1 in both Ireland and the UK and cemented their place in music history. Their second album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ was never going to be able to live up to its predecessor. But the Arctic Monkeys still released it almost a year after their hugely successful debut instead of mulling over it for too long.

Other bands, namely Klaxons, seem intent on delaying their second album for as long as is humanly possible. Why? Probably because they know it’s unlikely they’ll release another ‘Golden Skans.’ Or, alternatively, some bands could be hoping their second album will launch them into the mainstream, like My Chemical Romance’s ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ or Paolo Nutini’s ‘Sunny Side Up.’ Also to be considered is the fear that your band will be dropped from their label if your second album isn’t up to par.

So, who has to worry? Well, do you remember Kate Nash? She’ll be finally releasing her follow-up to ‘Made of Bricks’ this year. It’s very likely that she’s expecting for it to be scrutinised and compared to her debut (I think everyone knows it will be). And there’s no doubt that Florence and the Machine will have a hard time matching the success of their debut ‘Lungs’, same goes for White Lies.

The correct formula for a second album, if any, is hard to grasp. Most bands want to change their sound, be more “grown up” but also don’t want to alienate their original fans. It’s a hard game to play. Jack Penate made a brave move after his unremarkable first album ‘Matinee’. While his debut did garner him some fans, myself included, it was only ever okay. He re-evaluated his sound and in 2009 returned with ’Everything is New’, consisting of more genre flirting as opposed to his previous “indie kid with a guitar” style. And, of course, his second album definitely gained much more positive attention than his debut.

And lastly are the musicians who couldn’t care less about second album syndrome. Dev Hynes, formerly of Test Icicles, seems to eat, breathe and sleep songs. Better known as Lightspeed Champion, he’s currently gearing up to release his second LP ‘Life is Sweet, Nice to Meet You’ and has also written songs for various other musicians. Interestingly, in the past he’s hinted that he released other material under a pseudonym. Perhaps a perfect example of someone who appears to have music flowing through his veins, the release of his second album doesn’t seem to phase him at all.

Possibly my favourite second album of the noughties is Elbow’s ‘Cast of Thousands.’ It’s a tricky thing, making a second album. The first album is  for you to prove yourself as a musician, by the third one you’ll probably have been pigeonholed. It used to be all about the debuts, maybe this will be the decade of album numéro deux?


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09

On several occasions we've bemoaned the lack of good French-language pop. By 'good pop' we mean a tune you can whistle and hum and sing in the shower - and songs en français these days tend to be monotonous recitals of precious lyrics.

So, allow us to rave about a rare bit of catchy and melodic French music.

Let's get Bizet! Pascal, that is.

Pascal Bizet (right) is from Nîmes, the south-eastern city whose lasting contribution to world culture is the derivation of the word 'denim' - "de Nîmes". (The word 'jeans' is also French in origin - the earliest pairs of denim trousers were made in Genoa, which in French is called "Gênes.) Metallica fans will know of a 2006 concert DVD called 'Français Pour Un Nuit' that was filmed in the city's Roman amphitheatre.

We don't know yet if Pascal is a descendant of Georges Bizet, the Parisian who wrote 'Carmen', but he certainly has musical talent. Your correspondent has just discovered a track called 'Sans Doute' thanks to Canadian DJ Laura Leishman's excellent radio show on French indie station Le Mouv'; perhaps it takes us Johnny Foreigners to appreciate what's best in France.

'Sans Doute', with its pounding piano chords, has a touch of John Lennon's better solo songs. Changing from verse to chorus, Bizet's voice takes on some of Elvis Costello's vitriol and Joe Jackson's angst. The melody rolls along agreeably from start to finish, drawing in the listener without over-reaching for a killer hook or climax. Good work.

There we go: the first decent French-language song of the year and decade. You can hear 'Sans Doute' on Pascal Bizet's MySpace page, which also features some rather dense prose to describe the song's symbol-laden video, directed by Bizet:


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08

We've mentioned Emmanuelle Seigner on this blog before. The French actress released her first album in 2007 with the group Ultra Orange, and subsequently recorded a duet with Brett Anderson. Now her second album has just come out - and it includes a duet far more controversial than that with the Suede singer.

The album (right) is called 'Dingue', pronounced 'dang', which is French for 'crazy'. While her first album was heavily influenced by Lou Reed, this new record harks back to the classic '60s French pop of France Gall and Sylvie Vartan. Not being blessed with a great singing voice, Seigner never strays far from a low monotone - which is quite alright in France, because many singers do this.

The album was due to be released last November but was held back due to a dramatic development in Seigner's personal life - the arrest of her husband, Roman Polanski.

The acclaimed film director was taken into custody on a visit to Switzerland last September, as the Swiss authorities sought to extradite him to the USA to face charges of unlawful sex with a minor. Polanski is currently under house arrest in Switzerland.

Here's where Seigner's album gets controversial: one of the tracks, 'Qui Etes Vous?' ('Who Are You?') is a Bardot/Gainsbourg-style duet with Polanski - and the lyrics have an unfortunate resonance with the charges he faces.

The lyrics start with Seigner addressing an unknown man in her bed: "Qui êtes-vous, monsieur? Qu'est-ce que vous faites dans mon lit?" ("Who are you, sir? What are you doing in my bed?") Polanski's reply is "Je suis l'amour en personne" ("I am love in person").

The second verse is even more embarrassing. Seigner sings "Mais vous n'êtes pas mon type/Allez-vous-en/Vous allez avoir des problèmes" ("But you're not my kind/Go away/You'll have problems"). It continues:

Him: Tu m'as déjà dit 'je t'aime' (You already said 'I love you')

Her: Moi? (Me?)

Him: Tu as de peau douce et lisse (You have soft, smooth skin)

Her: J'appelle la police! (I'm calling the police!)

The third verse:

Him: Je ne veux que ton bonheur (I only want your happiness)

Her: Tu es un sâle voleur (You're a dirty thief)

Him: Je ne veux que ton bien (I only want you to be well)

Her: Mais je ne suis pas un chien! (But I'm not a dog!)

And the fourth verse, where Polanski's character becomes creepier:

Him: Mais enfin nous sommes fiancés (But finally we're engaged)

Her: Vous avez fumé? (Have you been smoking?)

Him: Tu m'as couru après, c'était en été (You chased me, it was in the summer)

Her: Je ne suis jamais engagée! Allez dégagé! (I've never been engaged! Go on, get lost!)

This, remember, performed by a man who fled charges of unlawful sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl. What on earth were Seigner and Polanski thinking?

The track hasn't yet been posted on Seigner's MySpace site - your correspondent downloaded it from a French online music shop. The album has just been released in France; at the time of writing, we haven't seen or heard any reaction from the French music press.


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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.