Just when the electronic music scene begins to seem over-saturated with French acts that seem to do little more than ride the coattails of Air, Laurent Garnier and Dimitri from Paris—mimicking their sound to such a degree that their own becomes embarrassing parody rather than heartfelt homage (see Mellow for example)—Grand Tourism arrives to shake the tree. This self-titled debut LP captures all of the promise of the band’s “Sexy Funky” single, a club hit in 1999, wonderfully merging the instant appeal needed for a successful single with the emotional complexity needed for an effective album.
“Jim Clark Theorem” is a massive romp. Beginning with blips and atmosphere, it explodes into a hard-house track that never relinquishes its Parisian roots or braininess. “Les Courants d’Air” is more down-tempo (think Massive Attack’s Blue Lines) and features the absolutely elegant vocals of Chicago jazz legend Terry Callier. Callier’s silky pipes drift from English into French with an intriguingly spiritual yet casual quality that can’t help but implant the echo of the vocal and backing sax in one’s head for the remainder of the LP. Apparently, Grand Tourism was aware of Callier’s affect as well, choosing to follow his track with the rather generic “Snakeplayer” before resuming the project without abandon on “Bassmajazz”.
That track’s meandering French take on atmospheric jazz lulls the listener into the initially equally jazzy but more American “Hybrid Story”, before the hybridization begins as the track unwinds into closeted drum and bass. “Variations sur Emma Peel” resounds deep with bass and a panting vocal mirrored by an equally breathy rhythm section for a track easily as sexy as its Avengers namesake.
Grand Tourism makes one slip-up, understandable when an electronic act becomes too vocal heavy. “Act of Love”, with vocals by Ken Norris, is no more appealing than any bad disco-pop of the 1980s that you can imagine. A far better representative of Grand Tourism’s ability to utilize a prominent vocal talent comes on “Romantic Hold Up”, where Angie B adds rhyme to hip-hop rhythm and stirring, sly vocals on more atmospheric sections of the track.
One more hard track follows, “La Baie Dufakir”, but Grand Tourism slides through the 90-second catatonia of “Vega Music” before fully stretching out into the lavishly destroyed, post-comedown epic, “La Guitare Enchantee”. A fitting end to a record that feels like a night out—Callier’s vocals and the jazz phase shake you up and toss you into the lights, but Grand Tourism is able to provide the seltzer water and plush couch needed just when it is time to detox and drop.