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24 June 2009

Areski & Brigitte Fontaine - 'Comme la Radio' (Editions Saravah)

Sometimes a few minds come together and make a record that exists in its own magical vacuum. I'll probably say that about a lot of albums throughout the duration of this lengthy project but you'll just have to get used to my repetition, repetition, repetition. Due to my idiosyncratic filing system, I keep this under 'A' for Areski even though it's really Brigitte Fontaine's show. This is because I owned L'Incendie first, where Areski gets top billing; when I finally scored a vinyl copy of Comme la Radio (a dream fulfilled, really), I didn't bother to refile. Plus I quite like it in the A's because it's rather close to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the 'backing' band on (some of) this record, who we will be visiting again very soon. So yeah, this record is awesome, by which I mean it's totally mindblowingly great if you like folk or jazz or foreign people or psychedelic music cause it's all of those things plus more. It's like an ice cream sundae with a rainbow streaming out of it. Fontaine's songs are kinda long and jammy, almost in an Astral Weeks way, though the instrumentation is really sparse and the production -- my god, the production! This record sounds a bit like it was recorded in a mailbox, though that suggests that it's thin which isn't really right. Maybe it's better to say it's "distant". And kudos for that - it's probably hard to make a record with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and keep the reeds mixed low. But Areski and Fontaine realised that the beat is the real current they want to ride, so the percussion is up front, the vocals are flush up against it, and the other instruments are there, but not in the forefront. This was made after the Art Ensemble had been in Paris for a few years, and they were about to go home and hook up with Don Moye and enter a whole new period. By it's very nature the songs are gonna hold to a more rhythmic structure than what these dudes were laying down on Tutunkhamen, Reese and the Smooth Ones, etc. - but it feels like the dark side to the Les Stances a Sophie material. Areski's presence is really prevalent too, at least one assumes the dark guitar stuff is him, and he sings lead on 'Le Brouillard' but it's cool. And the credits indicate that most of the percussion is him, though it's clearly funked up by Malachi Favors. But it's clear Fontaine is the driving force behind this. I've always had a real starry-eyed view of the French idea of "pop", probably influenced by a teenage appreciation of Stereolab and Godard films. Side one feels almost like a new form of pop being invented. Side two is the more exploratory side and it burns with a pulse that synthesizes a bunch of disparate strains of humanity. Lyrics, well, I don't know really even though they are printed in a nice purple ink;; I'm happy to just smile and let it all wash over me.

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