PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Les Baton Rouge: Chloe Yurtz

Rob Horning

Les Baton Rouge

Chloe Yurtz

Label: Elevator Music
US Release Date: 2003-05-06
Amazon
iTunes

The arrival in America of this Portuguese punk rock band affords an opportunity to speculate on ramifications of cultural product that manages to emerge from countries without a strangling hegemony over the global entertainment industry. One is tempted to root for bands like Les Baton Rouge, regardless of their quality, out of the sheer unlikelihood of their existence, the way one might support any underdog. One might assume that since it comes from outside America, it doesn't carry with it the values American pop culture usually embodies: that individuality and fame are the supreme forms of good, and that most significant thing one can do is "express oneself" through style and shopping choices while finding someone who loves you for who you really are. Of course, much of the art created in America assaults these values, but very little of that art achieves any sort of mass recognition, and the media, whose cooperation is necessary to secure such recognition, has in place many filters to strain out anything more than superficially critical.

And certainly, Les Baton Rouge intend to be highly critical, touting that they "work and play hard to support feminism and human rights". For a moment, such a statement in a press release (which is usually reserved for hyperbolic blather about how a band's music sounds like some other more famous and successful band's, and therefore warrants a journalist's attention) encourages one to fantasize about a foreign culture where such sentiments and such commitment to political action and social responsibility were not antithetical to making a professional living as a musician, were not mere marketing angles. But that the band seeks to break into the American market at all negates such a view -- that utopian fantasy unfortunately won't be able to sustain one's interest.

Still, the idea of punk rock from Portugal remains intriguing. Is it that one hopes there is a cultural lag in Portugal which will mean bands now surfacing there will embody everything that once was good in American and English punk, but which has now been co-opted and commercialized? Is it that the cultural distance will allow them to appropriate only what is good about the moribund genre, or to recast generic elements in some surprising new Portuguese way? Maybe. But more probably the interest lies in our patronizing amusement in watching kids from a culturally subordinate nation try to mimic our dominant products, which neatly confirms our own suspicions of our innate and inevitable superiority and wisdom in such matters, an attitude that Americans accept unconsciously, as their birthright. Americans believe implicitly that what occurs in their popular culture is automatically important internationally. Hence, an American's impressions of a band like Les Baton Rouge will always be muffled by his smug sense that their struggle for international relevance is a quaint, futile struggle to achieve what he has inherently and effortlessly.

Three different producers worked on Chloe Yurtz, which consequently sounds less like an album than three singles yoked together. The first two songs are the most polished; they have a bright sound and tight arrangements that make the most out of the slight hooks these straightforward punk songs offer, aligning drum breaks with bass fills and varying guitar sounds enough to give them texture. Suspiria Franklyn comes from the Kathleen Hanna school of vocalists, using the full range of riot grrl singing strategies with versatile aplomb: shrieking, whining, girlish cooing, militaristic barking, and blank moaning until no doubt remains regarding her outrage and frustration despite the impossibility of understanding much of what she said. She seems to be singing in English, but that ultimately makes little difference.

The third and fourth songs show a slightly more experimental bent, the guitars saturated with an airplane hangar echo and the drums working against the otherwise established rhythms. "Velvet Barbed Wire" has a change so abrupt it sounds as though a new song has begun; "To Dead Ahead" ends with Franklyn chanting a single anomalous line: "What if she earned money to save us?" But these hardly prepare a listener for the abrupt shift on the last two songs into more extreme audience antagonization. These were produced by guitarist James Jacket, but they may as well have been produced by Jandek, judging by their murky impenetrable sound and the apparent lack of logic guiding the production choices. "My Body-the Pistol" is so inexplicably staticky that it couldn't have been an accident -- lousy equipment or engineering incompetence could under no circumstances explain sound this lo-fi. "Parish Priest," consisting of only a voice and guitar, is more cleanly recorded (though barely audible in many places) but is twice as perplexing, as the song drones on purposelessly, stripped of everything that typically signifies musicality: melody, rhythm, patterned words, harmony.

Here, finally, is music that transcends any cultural considerations and condescensions; here is music that is alien not only to Americans but to most Earthlings in general -- suggesting perhaps that the only way to escape the consequences of a cultural hegemony is to make something that would be universally refused by all. But then how would one explain the paradox of my wanting to recommend Les Baton Rouge so strongly?

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.