For years, obsessed fans and collectors clamored for a domestic re-issue of French-duo Air‘s five-track EP, Premiers Symptomes. In 1999 they got more than they had bargained for. While the original European release pulled together five early Air singles of dreamy consistency, the US release mindlessly tacked on two funky "bonus" tracks that many believe clashed with the original vibe. To settle the controversy, I recommend programming your disc player for only the first five tracks. That way you may better experience Nicolas Godin’s and Jean-Benoit Dunckel’s lullingly tranquil soundscapes without the jarring wake up call of newcomer closing tracks "Californie" and "Brakes On."
Aside from the occasional Air song, I don’t consider contemporary French music worth the effort. You can spend unreasonable amounts of time wading through stacks of mindless hip-hop or slick and unsoulful pop in order to find the very few hidden gems of the French music scene. That said, you can imagine my surprise at uncovering such talents as Benjamin Biolay, Keren Ann, Carla Bruni and Coralie Clément all within the space of a year.
The last mademoiselle remains my true favorite of the bunch. Fans and detractors alike cite her whispery voice that can give instant mood to whatever song she sings as the key to her sound. The sexy then twenty-one-year-old first used it to near perfection in “Salle des Pas Perdus”, a jazzy, bossa nova inflected album of sweet, wistful songs that make for perfect listening as you sip your Friday evening apéro.
“In France, and maybe the rest of the world, I am not considered like a real hip-hop DJ–and I don’t want to be considered a real hip-hop DJ, because I love so many different styles of music. My way of working came from the hip-hop, but I try to expand it.”
– DJ Cam
The number of people who ought to concern themselves with the musical innovations of DJ Cam runs into the millions. A former Parisian graffiti artist, Laurent Daumail (aka DJ Cam) has released several undeniably hip-hop records that radically rewrite the rules of the genre. Neglected in his native France, audiences in the US, UK, and Japan have embraced his envelope pushing style of downbeat hip-hop, helping to amplify the global impact of such kindred artists as DJ Shadow and DJ Krush.
“Ugliness has more going for it than beauty. It endures.”
“The man who looked like a louche turtle cross-bred with a dissipated, chain-smoking wolf was also a singer, songwriter, actor, painter, cutting-edge composer, Eurovision Song Contest winner, novelist, screnwriter, film director, provocateur, sentimentalist, populist, intellectual, and the single most important person in the history of French pop music.”
Sylvie Simmons, Mojo Magazine
I wish I could speak better French, so that I might fully understand the words on Histoire de Melody Nelson. According to my trusted French friends, Gainsbourg’s lyrics are pure poetry, Read more »
“For Francoise Hardy, at the Seine’s edge…”
–Bob Dylan, Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Unlike escargots, beautiful French women are not an acquired taste, especially when they can sing. A melancholy and sensual chanteuse, Francoise Hardy made a name for herself crafting lush love songs of great sophistication. Often characterized as aloof, the quietly self-possessed Hardy never allowed herself to be marketed on her abundant sex appeal. Disregarding her looks, she built a following strictly on the strength of her singing and songwriting talents. Although released in 1971, La Question endures as her most spare and seductive album. “Viens” opens the record with a dramatic flair designed to grab the listener’s attention. The title track follows, establishing the album’s elegant dreamlike mood. On such songs as “Chanson D’O,” “Mer,” and “Doigts,” Francoise’s breathy voice lulls you deeper into a deliciously languid state.