Posts Tagged ‘France’

Alan Braxe and Friends – The Upper Cuts

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Vulture Records, 2005

Truth be told, I thought I had stumbled on an early eighties folk rock act that wanted to be edgy.  Whenever “and friends” accompanies a guy’s name I’m thinking those friends are the ones with fiddles, slide guitar, and perhaps backup vocals.  The brash font of the album title, as well as the vinyl wear effect behind it, just screamed Chicago or Billy Squier.  I’ve seen enough of those record covers at flea markets to be wary of them, but I thought that for just a quarter I had to know (HAD to know) what Braxe and his honky tonk buddies sounded like.

I am so glad I was completely wrong about Braxe, but I am also so glad that I stumbled on an excellent record as well.  Alan Braxe of France is apparently a dance music maker that releases vinyl singles very infrequently, so this record serves as a compilation of twelve of his efforts.  One of his apparent friends is Fred Falke, known for his own dance music, so with two of these types of artists this turns out to be one big hip shaking party with no signs of haystacks or cowboy hats.  Score!!

I could go into each track, but a big surprise for me was my recognition of “Music Sounds Better With You”.  I have heard it somewhere before, really liked it, then forgot about it.  It’s a modern disco song that repeats the chorus quite often in its nearly seven minute span.  Not that you’ll notice as you abandon all semblance of responsibility as you jerk left and right to the groove, sloshing your cocktail all over the place.  Or a coffee mug, as in my case.  It’s a light enough song so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also got a strong rhythm that should get a room full of people to get down.

I also loved the airiness of “In Love With You”, the warmth of “Love Lost”, and the straight on dance anthem of “Rubicon”.  Everything just sounds so easy and casual, so if you want to dance you can but you can also just soak it all in.  Despite the overall enjoyment, there are moments when some songs do sound a bit dated, even if one doesn’t mind so much.  “At Night” has a drum machine and a chugging synth effect that immediately brought “Miami Vice” to mind.  It’s a killer track, and I know Crockett and Tubbs would have approved its appearance during a chase scene.  “Vertigo” also clearly comes across as something from the nineties with its cymbal pop and, again, drum machine.  Sure, the song was actually made in 1997, but I’m thinking early nineties like Technotronic or La Bouche.  Hey, there’s still room for enjoyment of those kinds of tunes, right?

Listen to all sorts of great tracks from Alan Braxe on his MySpace and Soundcloud sites.  By the way, the groovin’ video for Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” may have been when I first heard the 1998 track.  Those silver guys should have been stars.

Scoring this for only a quarter felt pretty good, but the ultimate satisfaction came from spinning it.  This is exactly the kind of music I’m veering towards these days since I feel a bit maxed out on punk and rock.  I admit, I like to get some dancing in when I am in the swivel chair and have my coffee mug at a safe distance.  Perhaps that’s why I’m more forgiving of Top 40 these days since it’s all dance music to me (compared to that awful tripe from the early to mid-2000’s).  If Alan Braxe was an American artist who could pump out the hits every other week he would no doubt be huge.

But I am glad he’s not, for he’s more into taking his time to get that song right than throwing everything against the wall and hope a hit sticks.  Braxe is still busy these days, putting out exactly one single and quite a few remixes since “The Upper Cuts” was released in 2005.  Since he’s mixing, producing and doing other sorts of music jobs, one might not see output from Braxe for months.  However, if one keeps up with certain websites there will always be a reason to keep those dancing shoes nearby.

Oh, and Golden Dollar for sure.  That’s two in one week, woah!


Cradle of Smurf – S/T

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Tes Fesses Records, 2007

Well, of course I am picking up an album by a band named Cradle of Smurf.  But the group also helps with that long time hipster difficulty of taste entrapment.  Ever been asked “Hey, do you like Cradle of Filth?”.  It’s a tough question.  If you say that yes, you do like the symphonic death metal band you know you’re going to get sucker punched with “Oh really?  What is your favorite album by them?”  Trapped!  However, if you say no, then the Cradle of Filth fan scoffs at you and says “Of course, you look too wussy to like symphonic death metal.”  Trapped again!  But now you have an out.  If someone asks you if you like Cradle of Filth all you need to do is look knowingly distracted and say “Mmmm, they’re not as good as Cradle of Smurf.”  Not only do you flout the question asked of you, but you now put the other person on the defensive because they have no idea who Cradle of Smurf is!  OH YEAH!  Hipster high five!  Just hope that this Cradle of Filth fan doesn’t read this review, otherwise you may get slapped by a spiked glove because the jig will be up.

The maelstrom of colors and shapes that highlight the album’s cover is not a bad representation of the electronic music Cradle of Smurf composes.  The French duo (one of whom consists of Julie Normal if my research serves me right) deliver mostly poppy electronic songs with quite a few instances of noise and bleeps.  If you listen to these songs repeatedly to let them soak in, those sudden bursts of static nonsense fit in nicely with the flow of the tune.  For instance, “Akai to Aoi” is an upbeat track that begins the album but one can immediately hear the screeching pops that are thrown in periodically.  It doesn’t matter, as they mostly add texture to a song that might sound too bland on its own.  Normal’s voice sort of drones on amidst the light beats, but it’s mainly used as an excuse for lyrics more than a critical part of the song.

While I’m on the topic, if you prefer singing with your electronic music, you can forget it with Cradles of Smurf.  Most songs have no lyrics of any kind, but when there are vocals one almost wishes they just stuck to instrumentals.  For instance, on the group’s cover of Beat Happening’s “Look Around” Normal’s vocals are hard to hear because they are mumbled and wispy.  That may not be such a bad thing to some ears, for it’s not like Calvin Johnson was any kind of Pavarotti.  Thankfully the keyboards keep the song true to form, which also makes it clear that the band probably prefers to stick to its strengths.  Melodically fuzzy songs like “La Mort Du Pape” and lo-fi dance anthems like “Bachir” show that no matter what Cradle of Smurf try, their keyboard skills can craft some pretty good songs.

Just as I was to write this album off as just another experimental electronic record by a French duo (such a long list, monsieur!) out pops “Tokyo Song”.  Man, this tune has got the ability to get the indie dance floor packed!  It’s got a general dance beat and light intro, but then the keyboard that sounds like that Japanese stringed instrument sound (think samurai movie) weaves effortlessly into the tempo.  Finally, a sensitive tone sparsely adds to the composition yet makes it complete.  Of course, the end of the song devolves into a confusion of noises, but the impression was very strong.  Easily the best song on the record for me.

Cradle of Smurf have quite a few songs that aren’t on this album on MySpace, but maybe the recorded live experience (Youtube) is more for you.  Even this guy recommends you bring your goat to the dance floor.

If I am reading Julie Normal’s discography correctly, there were only 500 copies made of this Cradle of Smurf disc.  Am I a lucky man?  I suppose so, especially thanks to that “Tokyo Song”.  However, it’s going to be tough for other people to find this disc kicking around a dollar bin, so maybe it’s the mp3 route you need to go.  It certainly won’t likely be the live show route, for it seems that this side project ended around 2008.  Although Cradle of Smurf may be finished, they still provide hot argument material in the long running Cradle of Filth versus Cradle of Smurf debate!

Plastiscines – LP1

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

EMI Records, 2007

When the opportunity comes to pick up an album consisting of four young, lovely French ladies that play poppy rock ‘n roll, one must immediately put it away and ignore it.


I kill me. Alright, obviousness aside, let’s review.

The immediate comparison to these French ladies’ sense of two minutes or less style are the Ramones.  Maybe it should be more like Shonen Knife, though the pioneer Japanese lady punkers seem more poppy than the Plastiscines.  I guess the Plastiscines are a mix of both with their catchy, quick hooks and lighter topics.

The ladies tear right into a rousing “Shake (Twist Around the Fire)” that includes a slew of power chords that one has heard many times before.  It’s a good start, as “Alchimie” and “Loser” are stronger punk follow ups.  “Alchimie” is particularly fun with the rest of the band chiming in with “Comme tu sais!” (or ‘as you know!’) during the chorus while Katie Besnard sings.  Besnard’s singing voice reminds me a little bit of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, though she doesn’t sound as sarcastic or bored as Frischmann sometimes did.  Also unlike Frischmann, Besnard’s delivery on “Le Regle Du Jeu” and “Tu As Tout Prevu” is as pointed and fresh as it needs to be on the more rapid punk tracks on the record.

Most of the songs are easily enjoyable, but half if not less are in English.  The lyrics aren’t too complicated (another Ramones trait there) as evidenced by the line “I can hear your boom boom heart” in “Mister Driver”.  “Under Control” pretty much consists of “Oh ah” and “Everything is under control” throughout its nearly two minutes.  Perhaps some of the French songs have more depth, though the cutesy sounding “(Zazie Fait De La) Bicyclette”, which translates to “Going for a bicycle ride”, gives me some doubts.

While the band mainly sticks to the same formula of hitting the listener quick with hard riffs and early exits, the group does take a few moments to be cheeky.  Like “Bicyclette”, “Pop In, Pop Out!” is a one minute pop song that consists of Besnard periodically popping in and popping out with a playful reminder of the song title.  As much as I’d like to believe that the Plastiscines will stick to their brief, uptempo tunes in the long run, it does sound like there is a possibility that they may eventually lean more towards the poppier side of things with these two winking asides.

Les Plastiscines from France can be heard on their MySpace website or read on their blog.  While you’re on the blog, go pick up a Plastiscines t-shirt to add to your le cool wardrobe.

Ladies or not, this sound is my kind of thing.  I like the short bursts of energy that can invigorate me after a few songs.  If they’re singing it in another language half the time, who cares?  I was certainly glad to see that the french quartet released a follow up album a few years later, so I’ll definitely have to go check that out sometime.  I’ll also have to do some research to see if the Plastiscines are the biggest band in France right now.  I mean, c’mon … who else has the looks and the hooks over there these days?  Air?  Vanessa Paradis?  Edith Piaf?  Get with it, France!