The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

French Letter

11

Unless the Dutch city of Groningen has disappeared under snow and ice (which is quite likely this weather) the annual Eurosonic music conference and showcase will take place this week (14-16 January). Something of a European equivalent to America's SXSW, Eurosonic features a festival of new and emerging acts from around the continent. It's an opportunity for record companies and festival promoters to go shopping for new talent to fill their rosters.

Eurosonic was created in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), makers of Eurovision, and national broadcasters can send acts to Groningen. So, 2FM has picked a strong Irish contingent - Delorentos, And So I Watch You From Afar, Villagers and Imelda May. However, the UK delegation is particularly awesome this year: The XX, Marina And The Diamonds and The Leisure Society are among Her Majesty's pop acts crossing the North Sea this week.

As for other European acts you might know, Annie was due to play but the Norwegian pop princess has cancelled her appearance. But we see that Icelandic electro group FM Belfast and Swiss chanteuse Sophie Hunger will be there - both are very good.

What about France? Well, ten acts will make the short trip north-east to the Netherlands. We've already told you about three of them - Pony Pony Run Run, Clara Clara and Yeti Lane. As well as being excellent, all three happen to be English-named trios making indie-pop tinted with electronica. (Our regular readers know this blog's tastes by now.)

SliimyAs for the others, The Popopopops are also an indie-pop band but not a very good one - and they have that awful, unpronounceable name. The eejits. Jamaica are also a trio but play grunge-rock; Xavier de Rosnay from Justice is currently producing their debut album. If you ever wondered what Janis Joplin would have sounded like in French, then check out the hoarse blues-rock of Izia. La Caravane Passe have an eclectic and good-time mix of Balkan and folk sounds. Turzi are at the trance/psychedelic end of the dance spectrum. And Soma make unremarkable English-style indie rock.

That leaves us with one more Eurosonic-bound French act to tell you about: that's him in the photo (right).

To answer the questions we posed at the top of the page: Sliimy (rhyming with 'Timmy' and 'Jimmy') is the nom de pop of a young Frenchman called Yanis Sahraoui. From the city of Saint Etienne, he looks like a cross between Mika and Prince and sounds like a cross between Mika and Lily Allen - dayglo, theatrical pop delivered in the manner of a drama-school kid.

Sliimy became something of an internet sensation in 2008 with his home-made version of Britney Spears' 'Womaniser', which was spotted by - ta-dah! - Perez Hilton. After raving about it on his blog and Twitter, Hilton signed Sliimy as the first act on his Perezcious record label. (In Europe, Sliimy is brought to you by Warner.)

The French don't really do daytime-airplay chart pop. So, when we say that Sliimy's first record, 'Paint Your Face', was the best French mainstream pop album of 2009 we're damning it with faint praise. His voice is relatively weak and unremarkable - to our ears his vocals sound a bit low in the mix. Still, the fun and colour of this record is hard to dislike.

Here's the first single from Sliimy's album - 'Wake Up':


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07

The country covered in snow and ice, lakes and canals frozen over, schools closed by ministerial decree - for you back in the E.I.R.E. this cold spell is fairly hardcore.

It's chilly enough here in Paris too, but us Seine-siders can always duck into the metro and get home without slipping or freezing. These are days for Alpine specialties like the raclette - melted cheese on meat and potatoes, cooked communally on the dinner table with a special hot-plate/grill appliance. Yum yum - or as the French say, miam miam!

From the Alps we hop over to the Himalayas - for a topical reference to the Abominable Snowman!

Yeti Lane (right) are a trio from Paris - Ben, Charlie and Loic. They were formerly in a band with a fourth Frenchperson, a lady called Cyann, which was imaginatively called Cyann & Ben. (We presume Charlie and Loic were out of the room during the naming process.)

Cyann & Ben made swooshy, synthy space-rock that strained to sound all epic and sweeping. But Yeti Lane are more to our taste - the threesome make melodic, charming alt-rock. Vintage keyboards bubble up every now and then to give their sound a Grandaddy-esque vibe, and we reckon they have a more-than-passing acquaintance with the first Velvet Undereground record. These are all excellent reference points, of course - Yeti Lane are very likeable indeed.

Their eponymous first album comes out this month, and they'll also be at Eurosonic in the Netherlands next week. Check out some fine tunes at Yeti Lane's MySpace page. We like this one a lot - 'Lonesome George':


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05

It's 2010! For your information, the French are calling it a futuristic-sounding deux mille dix (two thousand and ten) and not vingt-dix (twenty-ten).

Anyway, here's the first French band to pop up their heads in the new decade, like a flower pushing up through the winter snow. (It's bbbloody fffreezing here in Paris.)

Clara Clara (right) share the repetitive naming policy of other French Letter favourites like Pony Pony Run Run and Birdy Nam Nam. They're a trio from Lyon whose drummer, François Virot, released two albums of likeable indie-folk-tronica in recent years. (He's the one on the right, looking sweaty.)

However, Clara Clara  - François Virot, Charles Virot on bass and Amélie Lambert on keyboards - sound more dynamic and urgent. They call their sound 'post-hardcore' and that stands for heavy distortion plus frenetic rhythms plus shouty vocals. For example: the band's second album, with no title confirmed yet, will be released in February, and first track 'Paper Crowns' is a tense stand-off between cold-blooded Kraftwerk-y electronica and chaotic indie-rock squalling. Somehow, what could have been a big old mess is really quite catchy and charming.

We suspect that Clara Clara will be very successful in 2010. They'll be at the Eurosonic festival next week, then the winter edition of La Route du Rock in Saint Malo in February alongside the likes of The XX, Local Natives, The Tallest Man On Earth and Clues. A European tour is pencilled in for April - no news of an Irish date yet. And in November they're hitting the west coast of the United States. If the album is any way decent then they'll be in all the right places during the year to get it noticed.

You can hear 'Paper Crowns' on Clara Clara's MySpace page - at the time of writing it's the only track posted. Their 2008 first album is streaming here and you could also check out François Virot's MySpace page for his solo stuff. Here's a video promoting the band's forthcoming album, featuring an early version of 'Paper Crowns' and a glimpse of what their live show looks like:

 


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30

Before we look back on the last decade in French music, let's jump back a further ten years and look at Ireland. 
 
At the outset of the 1990s, Irish music seemed to rule the world. U2 and My Bloody Valentine's respective 1991 albums, 'Achtung Baby' and 'Loveless', loomed over mainstream and alternative rock. A few years later The Cranberries found huge success in America and mainland Europe while a wave of northern bands - Ash, The Divine Comedy, Therapy? - cracked the UK charts. By 2000, though, our main music exports were boybands to Britain and since then only Damien Rice has made any significant international impact.
 
French music in the 2000s follows a similar trajectory - starting high but petering out. Daft Punk and Air went into the new decade as figureheads of something called 'Le French Touch' - a mix in varying proportions of indie attitude and dancefloor sensibility. Their first albums of the '00s consolidated their position. In particular, Daft Punk's 2001 record, 'Discovery', has been hugely influential since its release - if only for putting vocoders and distortion onto daytime radio hits.
 
Since then, Air have descended into self-parody and Daft Punk have yet to follow up their underwhelming 2005 album 'Human After All'. But Phoenix have built a steady fanbase in north America without (yet) breaking into the mainstream consciousness, while Justice have also found relative success in the States. And the likes of Birdy Nam Nam and General Elektriks have the potential to find a substantial worldwide audience. It beats Irish boybands and insipid balladeers, that's for sure.
 
Here's our choice of the best French music of the last decade. (We know that Rachid Taha was born in Algeria - he moved to France when he was ten so growing up in the country surely counts for something.) Some of these albums and songs are known internationally, others aren't. Would a similar list for Irish music in 2000-09 be just as strong as this?
 
Albums (click on a title to listen to the album on Deezer where possible)
 
1. Daft Punk 'Discovery'
2. Air 'The Virgin Suicides'
3. Phoenix 'Alphabetical'
4. Sebastien Tellier 'Politics'
5. Saint Germain 'Tourist'
6. Emily Loizeau 'L'Autre Bout Du Monde'
7. Rachid Taha 'Tékitoi'
8. Herman Dune 'Giant'
9. Justice ''
10. Cocoon 'My Friends All Died In A Plane Crash'
 
Songs 
(click on a title to watch the video)
 
1. Vanessa And The O's 'Bagatelle'
2. Sebastien Tellier 'La Ritournelle'

3. Amel Bent 'Ma Philosophie'
4. M83 'Kim & Jessie'
5. Alizée 'Moi Lolita'
6. Justice 'D.A.N.C.E.'
7. Daft Punk 'One More Time'
8. Air 'Playground Love'
9. Camille 'Ta Douleur'
10. Cassius 'Toop Toop'

Not for the first or last time on this blog, here's the gloriously catchy 'Bagatelle' by Vanessa And The O's, featuring the jangly guitar of former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha:


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28

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?

Albums
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'

Songs
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':


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26

Have you checked out the CLUAS writers' choice of top 40 albums for 2009? The clear winner was the excellent 'Hospice' by The Antlers, with silver and bronze going to Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray respectively. Read the full list and then let us know what you think of it.
 
Our various French counterparts have also been choosing their favourite long-players of the year - and the print, web and radio media have more or less settled on the debut album by The XX.
 
In the French press, Les Inrockuptibles, the most influential music and culture magazine in the country, gave their prize of best album 2009 album to the erstwhile foursome, now a trio.
 
For second place Les Inrocks picked 'The Turn' by Fredo Viola. The what by who? Well, it's the debut album by a London-born, New York-residing singer-songer who mixes folk, post-rock and a pinch of electronica. The record was shortlisted for this year's Prix Constantin, France's equivalent of the Mercury or Choice prizes, as it was released on French label Because. (It's an okay record but hardly one you'd put forward as the second-best of the whole year.)
 
Coincidentally, Les Inrocks' third place went to another Because release - 'IRM' by Charlotte Gainsbourg. 'Merriweather Post Pavillion' by Animal Collective was fourth and Phoenix's 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' was fifth.
 
St Vincent, The Antlers, Dirty Projectors and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart were passed over by Les Inrocks but Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, Bill CallahanLa Roux, Alela Diane, Sonic Youth and DM Stith are among those who made the final cut. You can read through their full Top 50 list here or here. (The print edition of Les Inrocks extends to a Top 100.)
 
On the radio, listeners to top indie show C'est Lenoir on France Inter also went for The XX in their poll result ahead of gloomy French chanteur Dominique A, Grizzly Bear, Soap & Skin and Wild Beasts. (The show's presenter, Bernard Lenoir, selected Soap & Skin over The XX in his own personal choice.)
 
And on the web, The XX was also the pick of Sound Of Violence, the French blog that specialises in UK (and Irish) music. Interestingly, the other podium places in their top ten went to The Horrors (NME's top album of 2009) and Muse, with Kasabian making number five.
 
So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Well, the small French alt-music community appears to have much the same taste as their Irish brethren and, em, cistern. That said, they seem to follow the UK music press and scene more avidly than the US scene, hence the dominance of The XX across the board and lack of consensus on American albums.
 
Also: to judge by these results Irish acts are not making much of an impact in France. Adrian Crowley's 'Season Of The Sparks' made number 58 in the Les Inrocks Top 100 (thanks to Nat for pointing that out - we had only seen the online Top 50), having received high praise in the magazine the week before. Will any Irish acts do better in 2010?
 
Our favourite moment from The XX is still their gorgeous cover of Womack and Womack's 'Teardrops':


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20

Were you at Yann Tiersen's show at Vicar Street in Dublin in 2003? Brilliant, wasn't it? If you saw Tiersen that night then you also saw an indie group from Brittany called The Married Monk - they were his backing band that night. We recommend their 2001 album 'Rocky' - spelled 'R/O/C/K/Y' to make sure that absolutely no one bought it.

Etienne JaumetA member of The Married Monk, Etienne Jaumet (right), has branched off into electronic side projects. One of them, Zombie Zombie, is a duo featuring him and one of the Herman Dune brothers, Neman. But now Jaumet (pronounced 'Joe May') is releasing music under his own name - an EP called 'Entropy' back in July and now an album called 'Night Music'.

Jaumet's brand of familiar electronica - Moroder-esque rhythms here, Kraftwerk-flavoured synths there - is hardly trail-blazing. But, as with those two illustrious influences we mentioned, the trick of electronica is to make robotic sounds feel human and soulful. Jaumet succeeds: 'Night Music' is warm and thoughtful, conjuring up the atmosphere its title suggests. It's too good to die as sonic wallpaper in trendy wine bars and boutiques.

So, that's our final suggestion for a French music gift this Christmas. Now we're busy making a list and checking it twice: our Best French Music of 2009 - and of 2000-09 too, when we reveal who's been naughty or nice in the world of Gallic tunes. But that's for next week...

With a bit of luck the snow is melting from the runways of Paris and your correspondent will be able to get home to Ireland tomorrow morning for the holidays. If you're travelling somewhere for Christmas, home or away, get there safely and have a good time. Here's the title track from Etienne Jaumet's 2009 E.P., 'Entropy':


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19

Franco-Irish relations are at a bit of a low point these times. (No need for us to go into the why of it here.) Fortunately, 2009 will end with some good news from France for one of our best-loved performers.

Adrian Crowley'Season Of The Sparks' by Adrian Crowley, full-time singer-songer and part-time festival curator, has got a rave review in the current issue of Les Inrockuptibles. This is excellent news for Crowley - Les Inrocks is France's biggest-selling and most influential music and culture magazine. Crowley lived in Toulouse for a while some years ago, so no doubt he'll be especially pleased by this notice. (Carly Sings and Duke Special have previously got the rave from Les Inrocks too.)

Obviously you'd like to know what the handballers are saying about our man. Well, we should point out that Les Inrocks has a very florid and pretentious style. That said, we've translated for you the entire review of Richard Robert from Les Inrockuptibles:

The enchanter

Dazzling in writing and execution, Irishman Adrian Crowley joins the circle of songwriters who are as impressionistic as they are impressive.

By the magic of an alchemy for which the formula escapes us, certain musicians gather in their hands all the beauty that enchants the lives of us music-lovers and mould it into a form at once immediately familiar and totally unheard-of. With his writing of pedigree and his baritone timbre, Irishman Adrian Crowley (already on his fourth album) joins this exclusive category of enchanters. With its classic dimensions (ten tracks, 36 minutes), its disdain for the spectacular and its unshakably balanced tone, 'Season Of The Sparks' will hardly rock the songwriting world to its foundations. However, it causes a considerable effect which lingers long after its final notes have faded away.

It is a miracle of equilibrium and elegance that few collections of songs are able to provoke, a unique mix of melodic clarity (established in the enchanting 'Summer Haze Paradise' and later confirmed in already-classic songs like 'The Wishing Seat', 'Liberty Stream' and 'Season Of The Sparks'), harmonic finesse and instrumental draughtsmanship, heightened by an art that is consummate in its execution.

Sensitive in his lyrics, Crowley's attention to natural elements finds its full expression in the organic and hazy textures that adorn his ballads in a minor key: electric guitars unravelling in unreal threads ('The Beekeeper's Wife', 'Squeeze Bees'), strings streaming like autumn rain ('The Three Sisters', 'Swedish Room'), echoing synthesisers covering each song in a shimmering veil...

Adrian Crowley crosses these special lands with a deceptively impassive voice that at times evokes the warm richness of Bill Callahan. And when he finally disappears after a final moment of grace (the suspenseful 'Pay No Mind') he leaves the obsessive memory of a fantastic wizard bewitching our consciences by means which he'll keep a secret until the end.

(original review by Richard Robert/Les Inrockuptibles, translated by Aidan Curran)

Well! Fair play to him - let's hope this is the beginning of great success for him here in France. You can listen to these enchanting tunes on Adrian Crowley's MySpace page. Here's the video for 'The Wishing Seat':


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18

Here are the names of real French bands currently doing well on the Paris indie scene: The Bewitched Hands On The Top Of Our Heads; Jil Is Lucky; (Please) Don't Blame Mexico. Leading cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles awarded their CQFD prize for most promising new act of 2009 to The Popopopops. An electro DJ/producer called Julien Brambilla, featured lately in The Guardian and therefore gaining serious UK exposure at a swoop, decided he needed a stage name and so he's calling himself Danton Eeprom.

Far be it from your correspondent to pose as some sort of communications expert, but we spot a serious flaw here in French bands and their plans for world domination. The tunes might be good, the look sharp, the live show tight. However, Jacques le Frenchman then ruins it all by calling his band something so awful that no one outside France will ever take them seriously or have a listen. (We should point out that most young French people speak English quite well.)

For instance: you might quite fancy some Gallic retro-pop or dancefloor-friendly indie. But there's no way you'd take an uninformed gamble on bands called Diving With Andy or Pony Pony Run Run, right? Right. Could they not have run the name past an English-speaking friend first? Perhaps some enterprising young anglophone here in Paris should set up shop as an English-For-Pop-Music teacher or consultant. (Hmmmm...)

All this is inspired by yet another decent French act let down by slack work at the baptismal font: Get Back Guinozzi! (The exclamation mark is theirs. Because calling your band just 'Get Back Guinozzi' would have been ridiculous.)

Anyway, the defendants: GBG! are from Toulon in the south of France. At their core is a duo, Eglantine Gouzy and Frederic Landini (right), but they have three bandmates for live shows. Landini is a prominent music promoter - his MIDI project stages an impressive annual festival in Toulon every summer and next February they're bringing The XX down south. GBG! are currently based in London and signed to FatCat Records.

Their first album has just come out - it's called 'Carpet Madness' and it's quite good. If you remember your Venn diagrams from maths class, GBG! make lo-fi indie pop that would be the intersection of the sets The Moldy Peaches, The B-52s, Cibo Matto, Belle And Sebastian and '60s reggae-pop. Gouzy, with her accented and simplistic vocal delivery, is an acquired taste. But so is Guinness and you had no qualms about putting in the effort to acquire that one. Their poppy cover of 'Police And Thieves' briefly recalls the stale joke that is Nouvelle Vague but still (just about) works. On the whole, this album has a lot of genuine charm and energy, plus a love of melodic indie pop.

Check out tracks from 'Carpet Madness' at the Get Back Guinozzi! MySpace page. Here's the video (note: contains kitsch '70s nudity) for the best song on the album, 'Low Files Tropical':


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14

A quick round up of some notes in the parish bulletin:

First, we lend a metaphorical cup of sugar to our new neighbour, 'Alternative Tunings'. Written by Aideen O'Flaherty, it's a blog featuring stuff that isn't obscure French indie-pop or the continuing adventures of the Gainsbourg family, but don't let that put you off. Already, in her very first post, Aideen has spoiled you with five promising new Dublin bands, so 'Alternative Tunings' should be worth checking out regularly.

Second, this blog will have its annual Best French Music list in the last week of the year. And, it being also the last week of the decade, we'll hop on the bandwagon and do a version 2000-09 as well. Drop us a comment, mail or tweet if you have suggestions or strong feelings on the matter.

Third, it's Christmas here in Paris. (Coincidentally, it's Christmas in Ireland around now too.) We told you last year how the French don't do Christmas songs - but they make up for it in Christmas lights. Department stores here are dazzling and the Champs-Elysées, if you stand in Place de la Concorde and look up, is glowing like a heavenly constellation.

Though there's no 'Jingle Bells' ringing out here, the Christmas lights of Paris deux mille neuf have a music connection. This year the lights outside swish department store Printemps were flicked on by Beth Ditto, in Paris for three sold-out Gossip shows at the Bataclan. Meanwhile, illumination duties on the Champs-Elysées were entrusted to Charlotte Gainsbourg. (You see? That family always ends up here somehow.)

Charlotte Gainsbourg 'IRM' album coverIt's been some year for Charlotte. Back in May she won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her role in Lars von Triers' typically divisive 'Antichrist'. Now to December, and new album 'IRM' (right) has been released here in France. As you probably know by now, it was produced and co-written by Beck.

We've already featured the title track here - a tuneless, monotonous dirge in the manner of 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. On that evidence, the album promised to be something best avoided.

Well, here's 'IRM' the album. And, damned with faint praise, it's better than 'IRM' the song. Though never as memorable as her previous long-player, the cool and nocturnal '5:55', it's still decent enough.

First single 'Heaven Can Wait' (video below) continues the '66-'67 Beatles vibe with some 'Penny Lane'-style music hall piano chords, while 'Dandelion' sounds like Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow'. It's hard to have strong feelings either way about two such innocuous tracks. Other songs in this vein, like 'Master's Hand' and 'Me And Jane Doe', are less tolerable.

This record is a lot more engaging when Gainsbourg leaves the summer of love behind and heads somewhere wintry. 'Vanities' has a lovely Scandinavian bleakness which makes it the album's standout track. (Perhaps next time she should head to Sweden and make the record with Stina Nordenstam.) The melancholic folk-pop balladry of 'In The End' recalls an iconic French pop star of the late '60s and early '70s - not her father, but Françoise Hardy from the time of her 1971 English-language album 'If You Listen'. Never fear: the symphonic and soulful 'Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes' is a clear nod to Serge.

As for Beck, his presence is discreet but discernable - there are enough of his trademark alt-folk touches, electronic flavourings and surreal free-association lyrics. That said, non-fans of his have nothing (much) to fear from 'IRM'.

So, despite the contaminating effect of its awful title track, 'IRM' is alright. It'll be released in the UK and Ireland in January, when the accompanying press release will no doubt include '"...decent enough... innocuous... alright" (French Letter)'. Oh, and on the album cover she looks like Mrs Sarkozy.

You can listen to snippets from each song on Charlotte Gainsbourg's web site. Here's the interesting video for that first single and duet with her producer, 'Heaven Can Wait':


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