Release Date: Sep 2, 2016
Record label: Disque Pointu
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
Mystère sure was a tough second album challenge if I ever saw one. After the masterpiece that was their 2013 debut Psycho Tropical Berlin (my favourite album of the year, hands down), La Femme rose to the indisputable status of being one of the hottest French acts around, filling increasingly larger venues to the brim and selling their 45rpm singles like hot buns. So it's fair to say my expectations (just like everybody else's) were sky-high for Mystère, and as soon as they began detailing their new album I vehemently prayed night and day not to be disappointed.
For the non-Francophone, at least, La Femme’s second album lives up to its title. Mystère – delivered in blank, affectless voices, by male and female voices – is an alluring grab-bag of styles, from synthpop to surf-rock to Stereolabish indie motorik, to near-baroque guitar picking, to faux-Morricone western soundtracks, to an almost pastoral psychedelia. The stylistic range is wide enough to keep Mystère varied, and to stave off boredom – despite the album being about 20 minutes too long – but its parameters are also logical enough that each song sounds like it follows naturally from the last, rather than being a jarring leap.
Mystère is the follow-up to La Femme's 2013 debut, and the pressure is on because Psycho Tropical Berlin was awarded a Victoire de la Musique for Album Révélation of the Year by the French Ministry of Culture. One gets the feeling that the collective's leaders, singer/keyboardist Marlon Magnée and guitarist Sacha Got, don't worry too much about expectations, though, as they deliver more of their free-spirited avant-indie-electronic mosaics. Like their debut, Mystère carries a sound that's at once retro and futuristic, or more precisely like contemporary music might have been imagined by creative souls some decades ago.
A blend of uptempo electronica, disaffected Krautrock and moody indie rock, this second full-length from this genre-evading French outfit sees them follow up the success of 2013’s debut, Psycho Tropical Berlin, which topped France’s digital charts. That part is easy to understand – these songs, whatever form they take, are all distinctly French in spirit and tone, infused with the inherent romance of the country and its language. Whether that’s the glitchy spacetronica of opening track Sphinx – which could almost pass as a Blonde Redhead track – or the sultry guitar-based, organ infused melody and disturbing choral operatics of La Vide Est Ton Nouveau Prénom (which translates, oddly, as The Vacuum Is Your New First Name), there’s a certain je ne sais quoi attached to these songs that allows them to transcend the limitations of language and instil themselves in your heart and mind.
The monotony of krautrock has not found itself underpinning synthpop, post punk and disco many times before, but here we have a sound synonymous with men, given a seductive sheen by La Femme. The beat is motorik, but the sounds on top are unexpected, which makes Mystere a truly engaging listen. This second album by the Parisian collective is the sound of artists who collect noises and place them where they don't normally go - brilliantly.
La Femme hail from Biarritz, an ancient whaling town 22 miles from the Spanish border, that these days is to surfing and tourism what Clacton is to Brexit. Naturally they upped sticks and left for the cynosure of activity that is Paris, but the title of their 2013 debut album - Psycho Tropical Berlin - is indicative of where the true roots of their music lie; indeed La Femme are to all intents and purposes a krautrock band. Krautrock is reductive of course, like most generic genre labelling is, because their sound is multifaceted, kaleidoscopic and at times psychedelic.