[12 March 2012]
Much of the French pop music that makes the arduous journey to America hinges around an adoration of American culture, no matter how kitschy. French bands often take elastic, clomping bass and the steady pound of disco, the synths, dance orientation, and soft funk of ‘80s pop, and add some guitar drive or a house pulse (or both). The most successful exporters of this brand, commercially speaking, are of course Daft Punk—who recently announced they are meeting with American disco king Nile Rodgers to discuss working together on their next album, further cementing the French obsession with reappropriating old American styles. Other believers in this gleaming French fusion include Phoenix (not as much on their third album, but in various ways on their other three), the erratic and erotic Sebastien Tellier, and Tahiti 80. Kitsune is a French music and fashion label that compiles and releases the work of various bands that adhere in some way to this aesthetic. Kitsune Parisien II focuses largely on the work of unknown native bands in and around Paris.
Most of the bands on this compilation have terrible names—a seemingly shallow criticism but a symbol of the larger lack of imagination at work. We hear from a band named Tomorrow’s World, which sounds like Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, and one named Juveniles, who are perhaps the rivals of another French band named the Teenagers. One group goes annoyingly by Nameless; another by the self-proclaiming moniker Exotica. Wolfpack Beartrack gets special mention for one-upping Anglo-indie: instead of using just one animal in its name—Wolf Parade, Wolf Gang, Bear Hands, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, and Deerhunter, to name a few—it uses two.
Most songs on Kitsune Parisien II are too dull to merit comment. “Angelina” is at least aggressive enough to be annoying—it mistakes loud rush for something interesting, and whoever sings for the band Nameless should definitely keep his own name secret, because he doesn’t have an appealing voice. That being said, his voice does stand out from a pack of male singers who all sing in a disaffected, gently inexpressive manner. Going along with the similarity in male vocals, most of the songs have the same steady beat, which begins to become soporific. Synths and guitars dart; the basses thump. It makes you remember that stimulating, attention-grabbing music is hard to make.
A few tracks break the mold (slightly). “Free (Parisien mix)”, by Owlle, has layered choruses of female backing vocals singing siren-like on top of the bass. “La Foret”, by Lescop, is one of the few songs sung in French. It’s spare and steady, not as rushed or forced—synths bleed in slowly, and tense, muted guitar doesn’t show up for a while. It’s uncomplicated and hard to argue with the rhythm section, until Lescop inserts pieces of conversations and doodles on his keyboard for a while instead of ending the song.
Consulting with various travel books indicates that Paris is supposed to be an exciting city, full of electrifying art of all kinds, big towers and arches, and delicious price-regulated baguettes. Kitsune cannot be expected to recreate the power of the architecture and carbohydrates through our speakers. But this compilation failed to capture much in the way of interesting art.