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.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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