Hypnotic soundscapes, jump-cut with rock beats, from veterans of Fly Pan Am and the Shalabi Effect
Five long-ish tracks traverse surreal landscapes of real and synthesized sounds, each containing a range of ideas -- movements maybe -- that are developed then abruptly abandoned. A restless, hopscotching intelligence is implied as songs rifle through moods, textures, and tempos, without any obvious connective tissue. Consider the opening cut, "Ferrari en Feu", which opens with nearly a minute of building, vibrating sounds, broken finally by a crack of thunder. Out of this opening, a cacophony of vertiginous squeaks and squeals builds, sounding, perhaps intentionally, like a set of miniature race cars careening around a track. This continues, sounds twining together into a digitalized squall of ascending pitches, until it simply stops. When the cut picks up again, it emerges as a far more conventional rock beat, bounded by regular four-four drumming, organ fills, and a rhythmic guitar riff. What is this, and how does it relate to the earlier half of the piece? It's never clear, though by the end, even this standard rock form has been subverted. There are unusual, half-heard hissings, puffings, and chimings percolating through the periphery, shading even the most accessible of intervals with tantalizing difference.
This unusual juxtaposition -- of experimental soundscapes and lush synth rock grooves -- defines Feu Thérèse, a relatively new collaboration between Fly Pan Am's Jonathan Parant and Alexandre St.-Onge (Shalabi Effect and Et Sans). Though many of the cuts move between these two extremes serially, the two are simultaneously balanced in "Mademoiselle Gentleman", a sinuous drum and bass rhythm laying foundations for careening eruptions of feedback. Chaos and regularity move on parallel tracks, chaos perhaps a little powerful but not overwhelming its defining other. " Tu N'Avais Qu'Une Oreille", the only cut with discernible vocals, is a fever dream of vibrating intensity, fractured stabs of tremolo'd guitar slicing through muttered French. Ritualistic drums pound wildly, filling in epic spaces between wordless, choral washes of sound. There are long galloping intervals of percussion and voice, rushing headlong like a horse through darkness, the way lit by isolated blips of sound.
"L'Homme Avec Coeur Avec Elle" starts like an early 1990s synth rock anthem -- the Cure, perhaps -- with its buoyant swathes of electronically sourced music tethered to earth by a skittering drum beat. It's a floating, multicolored sound, a helium balloon in the air, but it dies abruptly to nothing but a single blown flute tone. A tangled, back-slanting jazz rock movement bursts through the silence, saxophone trills and bleats accentuating big crashing surf guitar chords. Seagulls cry in time to a swing-rhythmed drum and cymbal patter in a surreal blend of manufactured and found sounds. There's more of that coming in "Ce N'Est Pas Les Jardins De Luxembourg", where field recordings of ducks quacking are repeated and syncopated so that they align perfectly with a drip-dropping synthesizer line. Everything is an instrument here -- from guitars and keyboards to the water-fowl you feed at the park -- and everything can be combined in shape-shifting patterns of thought and sound.
In terms of pure visceral enjoyment, this album's midsection is its strongest. The opening and closing cuts simply demand too much patience, too much dot connecting, too much work to be appreciated on the simple level of enjoying music. The cuts that work best -- "L'Homme Avec Coeur", "Mademeoiselle Gentleman", and especially "Tu N'Avais Qu'Une Oreille" -- make you feel like you get the gist immediately, but that there's much more to discover under the surface.