Pas Chic Chic: Au Contraire

[5 January 2009]

By Deanne Sole

Pas Chic Chic formed in 2005. A Montreal band, it incorporates musicians from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and other projects attached to it, as well as members of Cursed, a sludgy Canadian hardcore group that broke up earlier this year when passports and goods were stolen from the artists’ bags in Germany at the end of a tour. The Pas Chic Chic website has a blasted, forlorn aesthetic. Black and white photographs of chairs shiver ominously into focus, a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking trembles from side to side, never going anywhere, unpartnered and unexplained. A man’s reflection in a mirror moves its head. He seems to be glancing at something. People wait against a bare wall. No one looks happy.

Armed with that information, you might expect Pas Chic Chic to be grim, fierce, noisy, and post-rockily orchestral. Noisy it is, and fierce it can be, but the music is euphoric rather than grim, and the songs are short. The sound is a kind of pitiless New Wave chanson pop. The musicians sing in French, often with a breathy sigh, an ottery French sleekness, sliding around the vowels and crisping the consonants between the teeth and lips, the music always rising, the keyboards always going upwards—upwards and upwards and upwards, into a state you might say was ecstasy, not a sweet, joyful ecstasy, but a hard one, even an uncomfortable one. Instruments whirl and ascend. A series of chimes rings out and a women sings a la-la-la accompaniment. The guitar sounds sick for a few seconds, then rights itself. This is pretty and also disorienting, as if they’re stirring you into a blender. It throws you off balance, the air seems to blur. The artificiality of the keyboards lifts it all off the ground. The ground is out of sight, in fact, we never touch it. We’re being elevated into space from a point that is space itself, an ethereal position, so ethereal that there’s nothing of the earth in it at all. Everything is glitter-fog and sequins.

At the same time there’s a relentless, hammering quality in the music, a forcefulness coming from the drums, an anger. The connection to Godspeed You! Black Emperor seems strongest here, in the sound of this hammering. The implacable truth is arriving, in this instance wearing glitter and sequins and a Roxy Music synth. It’s as if the world is beautiful but somewhat cruel, and the band has to be somewhat cruel itself, to get the message across. At the climax of “Vous Comprenez Pourquoi”, almost at the centre of the album, the cruelty and fear take over and the song is shredded apart into scraping distortion, a frightful howling, as if the pressure of raw energy under the pop songs has split the CD in half like a cracked egg. The group wrestles with the chanson sound, scratches it apart and lets it jump up again. This manipulation of an already-artificial and even airless genre has a weirdness to it that sets Pas Chic Chic apart from its peers. “What kind of album are you listening to?” someone asks, and you find that you can’t quite say.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/66008-pas-chic-chic-au-contraire/