Eux Autres' wish to be considered as more than a band that puts smiles on faces goes unheeded with Broken Bow. But that's okay.
They aren’t Gallic but sing in French, occasionally, with the kind of cheeky chutzpah that underpins their view of themselves: “A love song Doug Martsch would have penned for Francoise Hardy”. Being so high-minded, it’s a wonder Eux Autres (pronounced “ooz-oh-tra” counsels their website) aren’t enjoying a higher profile. The San Francisco-via-Portland group -- which began as a brother and sister duo (Heather and Nicholas Larimer), but now includes drummer Yoshi Nakamoto and bassist Nathan Berlinguette to keep the sibling catfights at bay -- have been around for nearly a decade. They have an EP and two albums to their name, but have you heard of them?
It’s a shame, really, because their self-congratulation isn’t all hot air: way back in 2004, when they released their debut full-length Hell Is Eux Autres, they inadvertently anticipated the resurgence at decade’s end of '60s sunshine pop. Yet they stood out even then by imbibing that sound with a breath of the jaunty Riviera.
Until this day, Eux Autre continue to wield a diptych of simple but resplendent melodies and unfussy production values, where ‘effortful’ is as foreign a word as ‘écoeurant’. Their mod minimalism aptly finds its visual representation on the artwork of Broken Bow. The album is the band’s latest soundtrack to the life of the wayfarer-wearing youthful sophisticate who cycles in a land where the sun always shines. But it’s less Doug Martsch and Francoise Hardy, and more Lou Reed and Zooey Deschanel, with the Larimers sounding tighter than ever before.
“Wind Me Up” has the duo’s adolescent vocal harmonies dovetailing beautifully over the quintessential '60s boom-bap-bap drum pattern and Velvets-style raw enthusiasm, making the song something of a '60s musical timescale. Similarly instructive, “Under Rays” sounds like something said art rock band would produce if it were in an unlikely tryst with the Ronettes, what with its accompanying oohs, aahs, ba-ba-bas and sha-la-las, and chugging, motorik guitars.
The best songs, though, flog individual vocal talents. Nicolas’s goes down like a warm cup of naiveté on “A Band Undone”, a forlorn track that’s kissed by plenty of iridescence with its jangling guitars and piano curlicues, placing it firmly on a Zombies/Byrds footing. Meanwhile, Heather’s coy delivery on “Queen Turner” is as irresistibly treacle as the Pastels’ Katrina Mitchell’s vocal licks; and on the band’s surging cover of Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, she becomes a youthful Stevie Nicks -- before the excess.
If you’re looking for anything blindingly unheard of, you won’t find it on Broken Bow. Eux Autres have always been clear about what they do, and in the fickle world of pop, Broken Bow gets a thumbs up for boldly calcifying the band’s sweet-and-offbeat ethos. The band’s main gripe -- that it is somewhat ‘unfair’ that they’re always cast as happy-chappy despite the serious things they say beneath all the handclapping and sha-las-las -- remains unheeded, even despite the effort of having the word “broken” in the album title. When Nicolas sings about being treated badly on “Under Rays”, his delivery is so wide-eyed that there’s no getting past the general perkiness of the tune. To discern the track’s sombre vapour is like being an inebriated merrymaker who is moved by the poor homeless guy camped outside the pub. It’s odd, if hardly doable.
Broken Bow may unjustly be confection for the ears, to be consumed without any hang-ups. But one feels there’s enough serious stuff in the world to need to go looking for it here.