Various Artists: Champs Elysees Cafe

Maurice Bottomley

Various Artists

Champs Elysees Cafe

Label: Wagram
US Release Date: 2002-04-09
UK Release Date: 2002-04-08

Eighteen elegant and suitably self-conscious examples of the new sound of France are gathered together in this fashionable collection. Be wary of the disc's subtitle (the finest electro tunes from Paris); the geographical marker is all the clue you need. This is techno-based, jazzy, abstract lounge, heavy on the sample front and with passing nods to a profusion of musical sources.

St. Germain, Llorca, and Laurent Garnier have familiarised us with what is evidently merely the tip of a sizeable (but cool rather than awesome) iceberg. It should by now be stale and clichéd and, indeed, some of the tracks have something of an "ambience by numbers" feel to them. On the whole though, this is yet another example of why those who still sneer at French popular music place themselves in the dinosaur category.

A few of the big names are here: Shazz, Llorca, and, in various guises, Garnier). The bulk of the acts, though, are probably known only to each other. Luscal, Ark, Fab Sioul, Shinju Gumi, Octet, Ana Rago, Soha and Bount have the pseudonymous anonymity we have come to expect from downtempo compilations and although old hands like Julian Jabre are behind some of these incarnations, the evidence is overwhelming. The studios of Paris are awash with sample-obsessed, digital wizards who are making pre and après club music that is rather more imaginative than anything you're likely to hear in the peak-time rooms themselves.

If electro is unhelpful as a term, downtempo is a little too lacking in bounce for some of the tunes. Particularly towards the end of the set -- where Shazz and Peppermint Candy get quite housey -- but even in the Love-Hangover bassline of Luscal's atmospheric opening cut, this is mostly danceable fare. Everything is very relaxed though, frantic thankfully not being a favoured adjective in French club culture.

So if you can cope with house-techno rhythms, a taste of disco, a little blunted trip-hop, some nuevo-acid jazz, a smattering of whimsical pop chanteuserie and a postmodern fondness for allusion, you are in for a good time. No one track will knock you out, but only a couple seem too arch and contrived. From the slowest and moodiest (Eggo's "La Papaye Mobile") to the most conventionally club-stomping (Bount's "Unplug"), there is a richness of textures and a warm overall feel that will please the growing audience for the new smooth that this sort of stuff represents.

I didn't care for the Martin Luther King sample on Williams Traffic's "Free at Last". This music is too comfortable, too well-fed and dressed to feel at ease with attempts at social commentary. Equally the would-be sleazy "Sucubz" by Ark with an absurd Franco-American vocal comes across as merely adolescent. The rhythm track on the other hand is funky house at its finest. Llorca and Shazz provide solid if unspectacular dancers ("I Cry" and "Fallin' in Love" respectively). Both are remixes from their last albums but the majority of the material is being aired on CD for the first time.

On the poppier side Fab Sioul's "Silence" is charming, if a little hippyish. The jazz piano sample on Cassiopee will have you scurrying to your jazz collection but the singing is a little too sub-Moloko for me. On the whole vocals are the weak point of European jazz-house, this CD does little to change that perception.

This is not a major fault, as it is the snippets, steals and the woven patterns that matter here. Cassiopee (that electric piano), IC Funk (that trombone) and Shinju Gumi (everything) all tease and seduce with deft touches and telling juxtapositions. Basslines from Blue Note, toasting from Jamaica and echoes of mid-'80s Chicago flicker past in very evocative style.

Favourites? It depends on your generic preferences. Tech-house types should head for the Jabre collaborations; Peppermint Candy's "Chocolate Girl" and Soha's "Eve" are both worth a place in many a DJ set. More tribally-oriented souls will lap up the warped Afrobeat of Doctor L's "Lost in Da Machine" and Mainstream clubbers may feel more at home with Bertrand Burgalat or Garnier himself.

Whatever the bias of influence, the prevailing mood is mellow, a tad complacent perhaps, but soothing and sophisticated. The slower numbers exude this most effectively and I would give Luscal's "Modelled" and the Eggo and Gumi the nod over their cohorts just for that. Throughout the CD the beats are fresh enough to pass muster, but take second place to the inventiveness of the sampled sounds.

This isn't quite the best Parisian compilation around, but it may be the most representative. Distance, F Comm and Wagram themselves all have offerings that might suit the committed jazz-soul-house fan better. For anyone coming from pop, rock or the mainstream of dance though,Champs Elysees Cafe might be a very good place to start to explore the Nu Cool that has found a suitable home in the clubs and bars of Paris.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.