[5 July 2011]
The American Château Marmont is the stuff of legend. The “Hotel California” itself was that hallowed place where John Belushi bought the Big Sleep, where Led Zeppelin hoovered the stairs with motorbikes, where F. Scott Fitzgerald had a total eclipse of the heart and where The Lizard King practiced his “Climbing ‘n’leaping but definitely not dying”. Girls and boys, it was an underworld of Dionysian delights and carnivorous calamity. A naughty playground for the rich and infamous where no-one ever got detention. The French Château Marmont on the other hand are four blokes from Paris who create tasteful electro-spacepop. It is imperative we make this distinction before we move on to avoid any further confusion or embarrassment.
The snappily titled 2008.2009.2010 bags up Le Paris Château’s trio of EPs (9 songs, 4 mixes) to create the band’s “Sort of, but no, not really” début album. Opener “Niburu” launches this puppy pretty comfortably. A frisson of the Valerie collective and the French touch, it’s clean ‘n sleek futurist electronica with that refined air of fromage du Français self-awareness. In fact, there’s mucho influence of their Gallic brethren in Marmont’s sound from the warm, analogue waves of Monsieur Jean Michel Jarre to the hazy dreams of Air, with a dash of Daft Punk’s gentler side for good measure. As with most electronica, there’s debt repaid to Germany’s Kraftwerk too, most notably on Gesaffelstein’s “The Robots”-tipping remix of “Heliochrome”. Suffice to say, it’s all ideally heard while floating in space after carrying out manual repairs to the outside of your shuttle but tragically forgetting to attach your harness. Admittedly such opportunities are scant but should you find yourself in that position you may agree. Until then “floaty synthy” must do. It’s a soundtrack for life lived in slow motion.
The only problem with “floaty-synthy” is that one’s mind swims out to sea and you find yourself thinking about everything but the music. Here it was three tracks in (“Monodrama”) that I bid reality “Adieu!” and drifted into uneasy dreams and inane conversations with my brain. I started to ponder whether people dancing to this would probably “Have no faces and be wearing pristine white suits”. That vision of future music as imagined in B-movies like Logan’s Run, Westworld, and even Woody Allen’s Sleeper. My train of thought then trailed through micro budget ‘70s space shows like Space 1999, Buck Rogers and The Tomorrow People. Would Metal Mickey have liked Marmont? Would they have sent him spinning around while hollering “BOOGIE! BOOGIE!”? I came to the conclusion of possibly. But doesn’t this all sound suspiciously like incidental music destined for corporate videos or science documentaries? Put simply, 2008 became a metronome to fanciful thinking, a shiny wallpaper. I also, worryingly, started to play air bass around the room, particularly during “Heliochrome”. It got worse. I wasn’t playing said bass nonchalantly across my knees like Hooky but near my shoulders like Mark bloody King. And it was SLAP BASS. Curse you Marmont!
Such is the consistent similarity in the sound, the tracks simply melt into one until someone declares “FIN” and 3-2-1 you’re back in the room. Too often songs feel like backing tracks waiting patiently to have the real melody nailed down by the neighborhood disco diva. “Diane” in particular is crying out for a “hands-in-the-air” makeover to realize its true vocation. Employing a mumbling vocoder simply isn’t the same, these songs need life! LIFE I TELL YOU! There is a vocal on the semi-conventional “Anything & Everywhere” which is fairly skinny-tie-tastic in a “could have been on Duckie’s walkman in Pretty In Pink” way. Ultimately though, even having heard the album several times, I couldn’t recall to a judge how “One Hundred Realities” or “Maison Klaus” go beyond “floaty synthy your honour?”. Most songs, pleasant as they may be, simply lack individual identity. A sea of blank faces staring at me, shuffling in mid-tempo, all clad in pristine, white suits.
All is not lost, though as there’s some shiny in the floaty. “Beagle” is wide awake and jumping on the bed in comparison to its sleeping dog bedfellows. Damn, it nearly breaks a sweat. It’s got actual dynamism with high bits, low bits, in-between bits and a squeaky horn riff you’ll remember long after it has vacated the ether. Ladies and gentlemen, we are slam-dancing in slow motion. “Solar Apex” is plenty perky too. It’s the special brand of dark, throbbing electronica Dario Argento demands when beautiful Italian women are being chased through tastefully lit streets by shadowy maniacs. Some of the remixes are interesting too, if primarily for the fact that they bring some fresh chaos to the mannered politeness. Gavin Russom’s reworking of “Monodrama” is damn fine, serving a hip-hop funky twist which is both infectious and – praise be! - unpredictable. Finally, there’s a quirky dub version of “Niburu” to wrap things up nicely with rolling bass, echo bursts and some much needed attitude.
Most of 2008-10 will sadly simply pass the world by. It’s mainly expensive, tasteful elevator music. There are flashes of wonder beyond its white halls but mostly way over yonder within their dazzling remixes for Heartsrevolution, La Roux and Ladyhawke. This suggests Marmont need either better material or better toys. Either way more colors please. EPs are one thing, but an hour of the same scenery just won’t float this boat. Ultimately I’m left praying some of the American Château will somehow transmogrify and corrupt by proxy our French Marmont. So far the main thing both Châteaus share is that it’s recommended you don’t stay too long with either. No-one has to die or, hey, even get maimed but y’know let’s move a little closer to the edge. A little more insane in the membrane, s’il vous plait.