Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m writing about two fantastic new releases from French-speaking artists as part of a new, occasional column called Francophonie. Music covered in this column will feature artists who sing in French and who are from French-speaking regions — and, of course, their music will fit the Vehlinggo mold. (Bilingual singers like Paris-based Sébastien Tellier would qualify for this column, too, but Phoenix wouldn’t, because Thomas Mars sings in English.)
Today’s focus is on new albums from France’s Rémi Parson and Quebec’s SAINT-SAMUEL, both of whom I’ve covered extensively on this website. (Of note, SAINT-SAMUEL has traditionally been an instrumental project, but for his Prince George Records debut his work features several songs with his Francophonic vocals.)
Rémi Is The Cure
For years French musician Rémi Parson has deftly crafted minimalist-yet-intricate new wave and synth-pop songs that are packed with catchy hooks and beautiful synthscapes. His 2015 LP Précipitations is an album I still listen to at least three times a month.
Parson’s new album, Arrière-pays, which came out on Oct. 5, is a well executed work of art. As with Parson’s earlier fare, it’s still bathed in the vibes of 1980s Indochine, New Order, or The Cure, and it still features his delicately delivered, mostly-Francophonic sprechgesang vocals. However, this time Parson is going further into a darker direction and with more elaborate compositional arrangements. There were hints of this on 2016’s Montauban EP and last year’s “La Surprise,” but Arrière-pays (which basically means “countryside” or “hinterland”) has a particularly dark and contemplative feel to it. The production is far fuller this time around, too — like from a bedroom to a cave.
Opener “Mode d’Emploi,” which basically means “manual” or “user manual” and channels Disintegration-era The Cure, features a wash of fuzzy synths, cleanly plucked chorused guitars, and a minimalist drum kit with a gated snare. Parson sings grandly and lays the groundwork for a rich palette that is engaging the album over, even if you don’t understand a lick of French.
Cuts like “Hemisphere” and “Petit Jour,” AKA “Short Day,” have a tempered sense of immediacy, which beautifully woven synths and glistening guitar noodling support with great aplomb. “Ronde Nuit,” AKA “Round Night,” echoes the latest work from FM Attack in its ode to new wave, while also kicking up the energy on the record. “Tartare” doles out controlled but delicious servings of Boy Harsher darkwave vibes; and closer, “Dos d’Ane,” AKA “Speed Bump,” taps into the wavelength of Slowdive.
By going to Arrière-pays, Parson has seemingly found a renewed sense of creative vigor in darker, more sedated moments, bathed in an ethereal wash of reverb and minor-keys and a fuller production. Basically, the Parson we experienced on Précipitations — scrappily crafting mostly upbeat cuts in a lo-fi framework — has been replaced with the full realization of what we heard on last year’s “La Surprise.” The hinterland clearly brings up a complicated basket of emotions for Parson, and I’m intrigued to see where this new adventure takes him in subsequent releases.
You can buy the album, released by ISOLAA, through the usual digital channels.
Welcome to the ‘Télérama’
Montreal’s SAINT-SAMUEL is known for his expansive, engaging synth score releases that, through vintage gear, creative guitar work, and analogue production means, recall the likes of the ’80s work of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, while introducing something novel and modern to the equation. This is a composer who would never create anything derivative or built on an empty, cynical sense of nostalgia.
His 2016 release Švankmajer, an ode to the eponymous filmmaker, and 2015’s Carrousel, among other releases, all featured inventive arrangements that really sounded like nothing else out there — despite an infusion of the essence of those influential composers or brief cameos of synthwave.
This time, SAINT-SAMUEL has crafted an album even more moving and more willing to fill you with a sense of wonder and enchantment than his previous work. Télérama is a magnum opus packed into seven well-produced cuts rife with a carnival of Balearic and tastefully executed retro sensibilities.
As with SAINT-SAMUEL’s previous work, Télérama taps into a nostalgia for the music of the late ’70s and ’80s, but he opens the door to the quixotic dance music of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Certain synths, guitar riff choices, and song arrangements cry out with retro film-score or pop vibes, and there’s certainly more than a few doses of heyday Ibiza, but the artist is not stuck in the past. He’s merely using it to improve upon it.
“Ma Vie d’Adulte,” AKA “My Adult Life,” kicks off the album with an upbeat onslaught of engaging synth lines, SAINT-SAMUEL’s emotive pipes, and a grand fête of a backbeat.
“Mann” has a spacey strut to it, like Michael Jackson in West Berlin. When SAINT-SAMUEL’s gritty vocals and Alan Wilder-invoking synths make their foray into the composition, there arises a distinct possibility that you’re not sitting on your couch but are instead transported back in time to the most enlightening and exclusive club there is. This is a sexy number that leaves you expecting a Bowie appearance any minute now.
Album closer, “Dancing on the City’s Ashes,” is cinema for the dance floor, compiled onto a single six-minute track. SAINT-SAMUEL takes you on a quest across multiple landscapes and several genres, bringing out emotions you might not have known you were ready to feel. The pulsating rhythm serves to hypnotize, allowing the creative synth arrangements to swirl around in your brain and hold you tight. You’re gonna need some support for this ride. You’re about to learn what happens when Madchester meets Kosmische.
This is a bold and exciting direction for SAINT-SAMUEL. By taking some risks and eschewing dogmatic subscriptions to strict dogmatic readings of genre, he’s given himself free rein to not only have a good time but to create a true masterpiece. In doing so, we as listeners also have a good time, while getting the opportunity to learn a little more about ourselves.
You can buy the album, which came out on Oct. 5, in digital or cassette form. It’s also on the streaming services.