Lizzy Mercier Descloux: Press Color (take 2)

This Parisian's debut album from 1979 is a peculiar gem of the unheralded No Wave scene.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Press Color
Light in the Attic

A peculiar gem of the unheralded No Wave scene, Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s story reads like the script for an imagined Coen Brothers film focusing on the late ’70s New York loft party scene. It’s so fantastic, it hardly seems possible. Yet, it’s so good, it’s easy to becoming invested in it. The fact that her story is true makes it all the more amazing.

Born in France in 1956, Mercier Descloux brought her Parisian influence to the melting pot of New York’s Lower East Side in 1977. She shared a loft with Patti Smith and dated Richard Hell, as part of a jagged history of broken heart and creative partners. She also absorbed influences from disco, punk, Afrobeat, art-pop and whatever else happened to be around into her broad-minded artistry. In a way, she was like a proto Deee-lite if it was fronted by a woman with the distinctively dispassionate delivery of Nico or Astrud Gilberto.

To the uninitiated, her debut album Press Color — made in 1979 with drummer Jimmy Young and guitarists D.J Banes and Erik Eliasson — sounds like a decent greatest hits compilation, particularly when you hear the entire Light in the Attic reissue. To know it mostly came from a single year in the life of one artist is astounding. It seems tragic that an artistic vision this brilliant, at the helm of such infectious grooves, imaginative covers, provocative poetry and witty personality, could not earn the same acclaim bestowed upon the punk-tinged disco of Blondie, only rarely flirting with commercial success, but it doesn’t sound like she would’ve cared much either way. You can practically hear her thumbing her nose at the pop establishment in her version of the jazz standard “Fever”, where she replaced the titular ailment with a far more severe “Tumor” to morbidly humorous effect.

The rerelease of Press Color does present a significant improvement over the original. The track listing for Light In The Attic’s 2015 pressing is the same as ZE Records’ 2003 reissue, but it doesn’t need anything else. The original eight tracks were lovingly re-sequenced in ZE’s pressing, and enhanced by the entire Rosa Yemen EP from 1979 and four bonus tracks, including a duet with Smith and an alternate take on her cover of Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible” theme. Adding to the LITA pressing, the whole thing was newly remastered. It also gained well-worded liner notes from Vivien Goldman which paint a vivid picture of the artist’s life and process. Plus, the vinyl was pressed on Ives Klein Blue wax with a bonus poster, for even more nerdy incentive.

There is a great flow through the collection. Their playful mutant disco cover of “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown hunkers down with the creepy, unhinged “Torso Corso”, which stops short only to land on their slick yet taut cover of “Mission Impossible”, contrasting the following breezy island vibe of “No Golden Throat” with its slippery pick slides, snappy beat and Mercier Descloux’s mockingly imperfect vocals elusively bubbling out of a French conversation that mumbles away throughout most of the song. The varying styles are all delicately balanced throughout the original eight tracks of the album.

Recorded by just Mercier Descloux and Banes in July of 1978, the Rosa Yemen EP injects a more frantic, raw energy into the proceedings, giving way to the surreal plunderponic jazz of “Birdy Num-num”, the proto-Deee-lite chill psychedelic breakbeat of “Hard Boiled Babe”, and the Bill Laswell-assisted bilingual duet with Patti Smith reading the poetry of Mercier Descloux’s hero, Arthur Rimbaud.

So many reissues pile on a bunch of mediocre demos or alternative takes, but this version of this album is astoundingly playable from start to finish, over and over. It’s so far out there, that there are always new things to hear in each experience, and you feel like you get to know her a little better along the way. Lizzy Mercier Descloux may have left this world at the hands of cancer in 2004, but her presence can still be clearly felt on this release.

RATING 8 / 10
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