[4 October 2010]
Released concurrently with an exhibit at Paris’s agnes b. gallery in April 2008, the two disc compilation Des Jeunes Gens Modernes anthologizes a scene that has often been muted amid the underground rumblings of post-punk and new wave in the United Kingdom and the United States. Between the years of 1978 and 1983, the youth of France awarded the burgeoning new wave and post-punk scenes with some thrilling contributions, at the same time pioneering a slightly Gothic genre of their own called “cold wave”. Des Jeunes Gens Modernes strives to pay due respect to those bands, no doubt hoping to cash in on the recurring popularity of all sounds ‘80s in the process.
French post-punk and new wave were defined in part by hopefulness in the face of the cynicism and despair brought on by such global concerns as the Cold War and a weathered economy. Musical advancements such as the introduction of synthesizers and drum machines into pop music played a pivotal part as well. Des Jeunes Gens Modernes pools together both the biggest names of the scene (bands such as Marquis de Sade, arguably the best known band on the compilation) and the smaller, sometimes self-produced, ones (Les Provisoires), and in the process provides a microcosmic view of the scene.
Still, to the listener well-versed in punk, post-punk, and new wave, it can sometimes be overt that—for all the quirks emblazoned by the French—debts to more renowned acts of the era are still owed. Des Jeunes Gens Modernes‘s two discs are punctuated by songs reminiscent of Joy Division (Tanit’s “Eyes Scream”) and Talking Heads (“Cancer and Drugs” by Marquis de Sade).
Rather than being derivative, a good number of the tracks succeed in matching their peers or putting a spin on a sound they popularized. “Can’t You Take a Joke” by Henriette Coulouvrat even recalls the vocal loopiness of Lene Lovich, and succeeds in matching her unpredictability. Les Provisoires’ “So Much More” has traces of the Cure circa “Let’s Go to Bed”, yet is every bit as heartfelt (and possibly a bit more fun) as the latter’s more maudlin tunes.
The more wholly cold wave tracks on the discs prove that the genre’s name could not be more apt. Songs such as the brilliantly titled “Sex Computer” by Artefact sound like ice cubes clinking in a glass. Yet—and in another example of the French proving their charm—as the song reaches its chorus it becomes far funkier than any song entitled “Sex Computer” has a right to. “Sex Computer” is one in a handful of English-language songs featured on the compilation, so English-speaking listeners whose French skills have begun rusting over can take comfort.
Des Jeunes Gens Modernes is not without its faults. The self-production can sometimes be glaring, as on the somewhat ingratiating “Jungle Soho” by End of Data. Considering this is a 40-song compilation, some filler is expected. Closing out disc two are a handful of covers by current French rock groups of some of the genre’s key tracks. Renditions of Marquis de Sade’s “Wanda’s Loving Boy” by Poni Hoax and Taxi Girl’s “Chercher le Garcon” by DC Shell don’t quite match the originals, but they do make an argument for the genre’s unheralded importance. While not ground-breaking, Des Jeunes Gens Modernes is a must for any lover of post-punk and new wave in their earliest, endlessly influential incarnations.