Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
Chemical Sweet Girl EP
Prepare for the frog invasion. No, not a horde of mutant croakers leaping straight out of a Biblical plague -- rather, 2004 could be the first time that two really hot bands came storming out of France since Daft Punk and Air (and before that ... never).
A leading candidate for album of the year can be attributed to the pair of Nicholas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez, also known as M83, who originally put out the double album Dead Cities (no relation to Future Sound of London) on the small French label Gooom. Mute Records picked it up for a very good reason -- it's resoundingly beautiful.
Remember how over the past few years, indie circles have gone bonkers over orchestral post-rock -- first Godspeed, then Sigur Ros, then Mum? Well, M83 is in that league, but as an added feature, it also revives the shoe-gazing sound of the early '90s. "Run Into Flowers" and "America," the first two singles off Dead Cities, are nothing less than the second coming of molasses-thick My Bloody Valentine distortion and Heaven Or Las Vegas-era Cocteau Twins lushness, but with a string section and a rack of arpeggiating synths that Jean-Michel Jarre must have left out in the fields somewhere for these guys to discover.
The effect is an evocative sonic landscape, almost overbearingly cinematic, but it's not all organic. There are plenty of 21st-century touches: glitchy sliced-up female vocals on "007th," thwippy electro on "Cyborg," and pastoral down-tempo IDM in "On a White Lake," reminiscent of Morr Music acts such as Christian Kleine and Isan. "God of Thunder" deploys a vocoder and a propulsive Krautrock backbeat, and the epic title track gently unfolds its drones and atmospheres until it climaxes with some mid-period Tangerine Dream cosmicity.
The other heavyweight contenders hail from the Parisian club scene. DJ Ivan Smagghe and "metal goth" producer Arnaud Rebotini make up the neo-electro duo Black Strobe, who have released a series of devastating club singles since 2000, collected here on one EP. And there's no filler like you'd find on some maxis -- it's all killer.
Their new track, the EBM-inflected "Chemical Sweet Girl," makes a strong case for why the electroclash and goth/industrial scenes need to -- in the immortal words of the B-52s -- meet and have a baby now. And if that weren't obvious enough, "Innerstrings (No Shuffle Mix)" directly references Front 242 in name and early Frontline Assembly in sound.
"Me and Madonna" flirts with celebrity, thematically akin to Gigolo Records jetsetters Tiga and Miss Kittin, while "Fitting Together" bleeps and bloops Digdug-style like certain elements of the Warp/Rephlex catalog (e.g. Cylob). Never erring on the side of dull industro-thud, Black Strobe churns out entertaining, well-produced tunes that pack a dance-floor wallop, indicating that electro still has a promising and diverse future.
Now, you can stop calling them freedom fries.