The French foursome tread familiar ground, yet do so with verve on one of the year's more winsome debuts.
It's not exactly fair to compare the debut album by Parisienne band Plastiscines to Elastica's great 1995 debut, but listening to the snappy, direct, and deceivingly eclectic LP1, you can hear that same intent, to shake modern rock music to its core by returning to the tuneful ferocity of late-'70s post punk. Although the music is nowhere near as hard-hitting and tends to lean towards the melodramatic and playful (as opposed to Elastica's oft-brilliant sardonicism), the four young ladies make up for their lack of musical chops and instrumental wit by keeping things simple, and the end result is a record that exudes the kind of verve and confidence, not to mention an uncanny knack for genuine pop hooks, that few bands of their generation are capable of. And although half of the band's material is sung in French, it hardly matters what language they're singing in, the music is that contagious.
France has never garnered much worldwide attention when it comes to guitar-based rock, but that's been changing as of late. Metal exports Gojira are one of the most buzzed-about bands in the scene, and the shoegaze-like strains of Alcest's gorgeous Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde evoke Slowdive and Ride's finest work. Especially noteworthy, though, is the number of young pop rock acts that the 2006 Paris Calling compilation turned indie scenesters on to, from the Strokes-inspired garage rock of Les Shades, to the clever power pop of Brooklyn, to the primal ferocity of Second Sex, to the tetchy energy of the Parisians. Plastiscines also contributed a pair of tracks to the collection, and are clearly the most appealing band of the lot, not to mention the one with the most potential, and we hear that throughout LP1, which wastes no time whatsoever, nearly every song hovering around the two minute mark, save for one track that clocks in at a comparatively epic 2:51.
The entire album is encapsulated perfectly in the single "Loser", as the sprightly opening riff, vocal melody, and song length all bear a strong resemblance to the Buzzcocks, delivering the goods in 138 seconds. Sung entirely in French save for the title refrain, it's nowhere near the vicious kiss-off that Elastica's "Stutter" was, but its purpose is similar, as singer/guitarist Katty Besnard, in her impassioned, seductively husky voice, expresses her dislike for her antagonist in pointed fashion, capping off each chorus with the warning, "Prends garde à toi!". Equally aggressive are "Tu as Tout Prévu" and "La Règle du Jeu", the buzzsaw guitars of Besnard and Marine Neuilly anchored by the simple yet solid rhythm section of bassist Louise Basilien and drummer Zazie Tavitian. Two of the album's most ingenious moments, "Pop In, Pop Out!" and the Farfisa-enhanced "(Zazie Fait de La) Bicyclette", channel the buoyant French pop of the mid-1960s very impressively, adding playful respites from the more hard-edged fare.
If there's one weakness on the album, it's that Besnard doesn't stick to singing in French. It's clear she sounds more comfortable singing in her native language, and French actually does suit Plastiscines' style very well. Still, when we hear her absolutely beguiling mispronunciations ("I've been sitting in your car for how-ers", she sings on "Mister Driver"), all is forgiven, and it doesn't hurt that the music is so strong. "Shake (Twist Around the Fire)" and the adrenalin-fueled "Lost in Translation" continue that Buzzcocks vibe, while "Rake" and the ham-fisted "Human Rights" revisit the late-'70s punk sounds of the Stiff Records roster. The best of the Anglocentric songs is the semi-ballad "No Way", which, with its midtempo groove and vibrato guitar, exudes the kind of nocturnal feel the Raveonettes do so well, the rest of band backing up Besnard in classic girl group style. The Plastiscines pop in and pop out in the blink of an eye, and 26 minutes later, we don't know what hit us. Smitten, our only option is to press play one more time, and hope like hell it won't be long until their next album.