Mon dieu, is it the end of the year already? Well, before we step into 2009, there remains one piece of outstanding business – we need to reveal our choice of the best French albums and songs of deux mille huit.
We’ve found loads of great French music during the last twelve months; we hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone who e-mailed and commented during the year - all your feedback, tips and suggestions have been greatly appreciated.
So, it’s time to start opening golden envelopes and handing out mantelpiece ornaments. Who’ll join the lovely Marion Cotillard (right) in winning a prestigious honour for France?
Albums: No instant classics this year (2006 is looking more than ever like French pop’s annus mirabilis) but plenty of fine long-players all the same. (Links are to the act’s MySpace page.)
1. Kim ‘Don Lee Doo’
Kim Stanislas Giani clearly adores ‘80s pop mavericks like Prince and Kate Bush, which can only be A Good Thing. His 17th album in 14 years (and he’s only 31) is infused with the spirit of ‘1999’ and ‘Hounds Of Love’ - eccentric but enthralling electro-pop. He also makes his own videos, and every track seems to have its own website or MySpace page. Let’s hope he doesn’t start taking it easy in 2009.
Another idiosyncratic Frenchman who’s chopped his name; John Lennon soundalike Barthelemy Corbelet here tempers his Beatles-y indie-jangle sound with a distinct Americana alt-country shuffle and a dash of Ennio Morricone. There’s some reggae thrown in too. As with Kim, half the pleasure of this album is wondering where it’ll turn next.
A likeable mix of ramshackle acoustica and streetwise art-pop from a French couple living in London. Odd packaging: a double album format with a ‘John’ disc and a ‘Jehn’ disc – the only problem is that our copy had the tracks mixed up. Or was this deliberate? You’ll figure it out.
And here’s another French band exiled in London. This young trio were championed by the NME for their angular Sonic Youth-influenced alt-rock – slightly squally and occasionally abstract, but with several cracking singles.
5. M83 ‘Saturdays = Youth’
It’s fine stuff, although a whole album of misty synths and oblique mumbling isn’t for everyone. But Anthony Gonzalez (note to self: two ‘z’s) and friends won’t be going home empty-handed – see our ‘Songs’ list below.
Jonathan Morali’s hushed singing style and quiet acoustic arrangements concealed some smart, witty songwriting that plays with the stereotype of self-pitying singer-songers. A record that rewards attentive listening.
A throwback to the early-‘90s U.S. alt-rock sound of The Jesus Lizard and Rage Against The Machine, the debut record by this Nantes band was full of well-written songs delivered with focused energy. Visitors to Eire in 2008, they could do well in a festival slot next summer.
Charming indie-pop with enough oddness and eccentricity to keep it fresh and interesting. That said, Olivia B. Merilahti’s voice has a certain nails-down-the-blackboard quality, so approach with caution. Imagine how fantastic this album would have been if she could sing!
From Jean-Michel Jarre up to Air, no one does retro-futuristic electronica like the French. Here’s more of it – ‘80s nostalgia infused with 21st century attitude.
Pleasant, uncomplicated guitar-pop with a sweet, sincere white-boy-soul centre. They’re Big In Japan, we believe.
NOT Album of the Year: Camille ‘Music Hole’
Wow. This one was a real stinker. Graceless egotism, hypocritical sneering at other singers, flimsy songs shored up by excessive vocal effects – a future university course on Disastrous Follow-Up Records would be sure to feature this terrible successor to our 2005 Best French Album. Quite simply, a huge disappointment.
Roll of honour ~ Albums
2008: Kim ‘Don Lee Doo’
2005: Camille ‘Le Fil’
Songs: Plenty of fine French tracks in 2008. However, unlike the album list, one song stood out as a clear winner, ever since we turned on the radio late one night last April and heard something magical pouring out… (Links are to the video for each track, all working and correct at time of writing.)
Dreamy synth-shoegazing, like a cross between My Bloody Valentine and Air. Much-abused music-review clichés like ‘ethereal’ and ‘atmospheric’ suddenly became fresh and essential for describing this song’s chorus, a swirl of keyboards as Anthony Gonzalez sings “Somebody lurks in the shadows/Somebody whispers”. Gorgeous stuff.
A couple singing about how they love each other. No, wait! It’s actually quite funny and charming and catchy! And they explain the chorus so that it all makes perfect sense.
3. Underground Railroad ‘25’
Hints of The Cure spice up this twisting, beguiling slice of college alt-rock, featuring guitarist Marion on vocals.
Like a midfield genius dragging an ordinary team to victory, sometimes a great chorus is enough to make a memorable song. So it is with this cartoon-punk thrasher, when singer Geraldine answers her own question in a glorious pop technicolour hook. (Note: not Californian band The Dodos)
Fancy that! Old chipmunk-face makes a single that’s not only non-irritating but actually a cracking bit of Jacko/Justin dancefloor pop. The album of the same name proved to be a dozen dodgy photocopies of this song, but that’s understandable.
The sound of escaping into the deep heart of the French countryside, cycling through sleepy villages and picnicking on bread, wine, cheese and ham. All that, conjured up by breathy vocals, a pulsing bassline, skiffly drumming and strumming strings.
For all its popularity and chart success, French R n’B-flavoured pop produced little of enduring quality this year. The exception is this classy single that fused US soulfulness with cold French keyboards. The video is interesting: the plot development at 3 mins 50 secs was the singer’s actual condition at the time of filming.
It’s the disco-pop cracker from the Alpine foothills that’ll have you going “You know, maybe I should pick up a Boney M compilation sometime!” Such is the terrifying power of this catchy floorfiller. (But get a Chic record instead.)
Simple, catchy indie-pop, so radio-friendly that if you hold it up close to your ear you can hear the traffic news.
10. Benjamin Diamond ‘This Is It’
Some slick, romantic nightclub-pop by a former UK chart-topper. We figure that this is what Sebastien Tellier was aiming for with his poor ‘Sexuality’ album. (No video, so you'll have to visit Mr Diamond's MySpace page.)
(We also liked: Kim ‘Radio Grady’, Emily Loizeau ‘Sister’, Quidam ‘Nos Souvenirs’, Melissa M ‘Cette Fois’, St Augustine ‘Icelandic’, Maya Barsony ‘La Pompe A Diesel', Herman Dune ‘Try To Think About Me’, Syd Matters ‘Everything Else’, Barth ‘Magic Wondermeal’, The Rodeo ‘I’m Rude’, The Dø ‘On My Shoulders’)
You’re a famous rock star who wins early release from prison, having served only half of a controversially short sentence. A year later you bring out your comeback single. Surely you wouldn’t be so insensitive, stupid and out-of-touch as to sing a song that (without ANY hint of irony) criticises the privileged of society while identifying yourself (rich rock star released early from prison, remember) with the poor and oppressed! And apart from the moral hypocrisy of the act, it’s a turgid whine of a ballad. (There’s already a discussion thread here, should you have strong feelings on the matter.)
Roll of honour ~ Songs
2008: M83 ‘Kim & Jessie’
So that’s the year in French music. Here’s our Best French Song of 2008, ‘Kim & Jessie’ by M83 – see you in deux mille neuf: