“Smoke ‘Em Out” is a righteous if elusive protest song, presented in a beautifully sculpted environment.
“Smoke ‘Em Out,” when released back in January, was positioned as a protest song, timed as it was to coincide with the massive Women’s March on Washington, the day after the U.S. president* was elected*. And you can surely sense righteous and rightful anger and frustration here. But as protest songs go, this one is elusive at best. The lyrics, as often with CocoRosie songs, scan as randomly associated words (but scan they do; the Casady sisters are masters of rhythmic authenticity), and together add up to little more than an intriguing mystery. But hell if they say this is a protest song, I’m all in. We need as many of them as we can muster.
We also need as many talented and idiosyncratic musicians as Bianca and Sierra Casady as we can encourage. Doing musical business as CocoRosie since 2004, the sisters have consistently trafficked in a quirky but captivating sound that blends a dizzying variety of musical elements together into something unusually gripping. While pundits like to point out their proclivity at creating an unusual mix of the lo-fi and the tightly produced, the amalgam of theirs I find personally gratifying is their simultaneous commitment to eccentricity and accessibility. This strikes me as a rare treat in today’s musical landscape, which has tended to polarize towards the almost fascistically formulaic on the one hand and the blatantly outre on the other.
Glitchy percussion, child-like synth lines, appealing chord washes, “Smoke ‘Em Out” has all of that just in the ear-catching introduction. When the lyrics start, the song incorporates Bianca’s rap-like delivery into a beautifully sculpted aural environment. The Casadys’ long-time friend Anonhi brings her distinctive voice to the impressively succinct chorus, but I think it’s actually Bianca’s lines after Anonhi sings (first heard at 1:42) that seals this song’s triumph. Her singing voice is here processed in an old-school, megaphonic way, and while mimicking the precision of her rapped verses in her first sung line, in the second line she holds back and releases her words exquisitely behind the beat; that this lyric coincides with a sneaky musical resolution has a lot to do with how satisfying the song feels.
Based in France, CocoRosie has been featured on Fingertips twice previously: in March 2007 and in April 2010. Longtime friends with Anonhi, the sisters previously worked with her on 2013’s Tales of a Grass Widow. Their most recent album was 2015’s Heartache City. “Smoke ‘Em Out” is so far a single only. MP3 via KEXP.
What a fluid and charming piece of work this one is, buoyed by an effortless sense of melody and the fragile but authoritative voice of the eponymous Orouni.
What a fluid and charming piece of work this one is, buoyed by an effortless sense of melody and the fragile but authoritative voice of the eponymous Orouni. A Parisian singer/songwriter whose self-proclaimed influences include the likes of Leonard Cohen and The Kinks, Orouni makes carefully composed songs in which the notes seem handcrafted, one by one, then sung with an ongoing aura of surprise and assurance. The chord change at 0:56, gentle and resolute, is emblematic of the song’s pervading ambience of precipitant redesign, which culminates at 2:37 with a trumpet solo. It is both unexpected and ideal.
“The Lives of Elevators” is a live performance, from a recently folded-up French music site called Findspire, the offerings of which remain available on YouTube. Watch the video and be lulled by the easy-going flow, as we check in visually with each musician, so locked into the groove that they somehow seem to be playing one thing but listening to another. I mean that as a compliment, even if that doesn’t sound like one.
Orouni has recorded three albums to date, which you can listen to and purchase via Bandcamp. I recommend a visit there. “The Lives of Elevators” is based on a 2008 New Yorker article of the same name, written by Nick Paumgarten, which itself is worth reading. The song is a new one, which might appear on the next Orouni album, which might be released this year. Plans are yet unclear. Thanks to Orouni for the MP3.
With the mischievous energy of something vaguely furtive, “Dans Le Noir” unfolds with an intricate overlay of ’60s influences, from the folk-rock melodies to the spy-movie guitar accents to the psychedelic synthesizer flourishes.
With the mischievous energy of something vaguely furtive, “Dans Le Noir” unfolds with an intricate overlay of ’60s-like sounds, from the folk-rock melodies to the spy-movie guitar accents to the psychedelic synthesizer flourishes. Before we get to any of that, however, take note of the introduction, which effects the satisfying trick of introducing without simply vamping on the main motif—what we get instead is an engaging guitar duet, with a lower-register, half-time melody backed by busy runs in the upper register. The song is thereby introduced, but we still don’t know exactly what it’s going to sound like. I like this.
The song itself is equally likable, driven by front woman Anna Jean’s cool, shadowy vocals, singing a cycling, minor-key melody that seems to keep yearning upward before pitching downward, aiming over and over for something not apparently reachable. The concise chorus, flattened and reverbed and buoyed by nostalgic harmonies, feels cinematic in a black-and-white kind of way. Anna Jean floats through its melodic poignancy with her self-possession unruffled—which actually renders the music all the more poignant somehow. In a similar (or not?) way, the entire song’s surface-level simplicity manages to convey a deepening sense of complexity with repeated listens. Somehow.
Juniore is a new band from Paris about which information remains sketchy, besides the fact that Anna Jean is in charge. She has previously collaborated with an assortment of other French musicians, but this appears to be the first time she is taking center stage. “Dans Le Noir” is one of two songs on the band’s debut 7-inch, released in November. A full-length album and a tour is scheduled for 2014.
Dreamy, determined, enticing electronic pop.
With a clicky, sampled undercurrent and a seductive, eardrummy beat, “Brothers & Sisters” is an effortlessly wonderful piece of electronic pop—dreamy, determined, and enticing. The music is, in fact, as likable as our current-day tendency to micro-label such music is unlikable. (There is a whole side story here about Unison making music that is part of a genre called “witch house,” which started as a joke and then became a thing, even as debate continues whether it actually is a thing or not. Boring.)
Much of the allure lies in the substantive soprano of Melanie Moran. Don’t let the airy whisper fool you; here is a woman who sings with the resolute agency of an indie diva. (And I’m passing no judgment here on her personality, just on the consequence of her voice.) In the context of Unison, her voice is one of many sonic elements—some percussive, some keyboardy—but note how, through the first two-thirds of the song, she is never subsumed; even whether other sounds appear louder, Moran is always given space. Her tone is weighty from low register to high, and I would say it is precisely her authoritative tone that allows the band to throw all the whooshy/clackety electronics onto the track so successfully.
And when, at last, the kitchen-sink background rises fully to meet her (3:37), we may lose some of her articulation but her bell-like sonority still anchors the swelling soundscape, which by now is full of beats and ghostly backing vocals and something resembling a doorbell having a nervous breakdown.
Unison is the French duo of Moran and Julien Camarena. “Brothers & Sisters” is a song from their self-titled debut, which was released in France in September, and arrives in the U.S. next month on Lentonia Records.
Carefree English-speaking French pop from a band doing it before it was a genre. There’s something not only charming but truly satisfying about a song that works quite so well both for people who are barely paying attention and for people paying close attention. This is no small feat. For the first group, a jaunty, smoothly sung tune is all that’s required. Great background music. The second group is trickier to please, as the music has to display a sort of depth that jaunty, smoothly sung tunes by their nature often lack.
The depth here, for me, is rooted in the song’s offhanded musicality. “Unpredictable” is full of interesting moments that whisper rather than shout as they unfold. Listen, for instance, to the very start: we hear a basic drumbeat that the ear expects to be established through four standard measures but instead–there for us to notice, or not–it’s interrupted after three seconds, in the second measure, which grounds the song in a sort of percussive pre-introduction. Only after that comes the standard four-measure intro. Listen, as another example, to the subtle adjustments the melody makes in the verse and how seductively singer Xavier Boyle wraps his faintly textured tenor around them: the way the melody mimics the keyboard riff at 0:23; the slow then fast pacing in the phrase “knock me down” at 0:31; the way the verse line is shortened and turned on the unresolved phrase “on the wall” at 0:35; and that’s just in the first verse. I give the band points, too, for an entirely different kind of craftiness–how the song title comes not from the chorus but from the verse. That’s rare in a chipper number like this one; anyone seeking only the inattentive audience will place the title where it repeats most obviously.
Bouncing along since 1993, Tahiti 80 is quartet from Rouen, France. “Unpredictable” is from the album Activity Center, the band’s fourth, which has been out for a year in Europe; its U.S. release comes, at last, later this month.