Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Neither Blind nor Random

À L'aveuglette
(Le Pop)
Breut wrote all the lyrics for this, her fourth album, and co-wrote most of the songs. That doesn't sound terribly impressive unless you know that the former back-up singer has built a respectable career in Europe as a vessel for other songwriters.

Perhaps the album title, which translates to blindly or at random speaks to the leap into the unknown she took by consciously leaving her comfort zone as a performer of existing songs so that she could create her own works. Whatever the meaning, L'aveuglette is good.

A galloping rhythm propels "Les Jeunes Pousses," one of several songs shaded by the spacious arrangements and arid, lonesome guitars of bands such as Calexico. (It's odd to think of a Frenchwoman emulating that Southwest-of-the-mind style, but Breut has collaborated with Calexico.) Her past work with Dominique A utilized similar styles, but without him on these recordings, the songs are less noisy and rock oriented.

Also, Breut's quiet alto has developed into a more mature instrument, separating her from easy comparisons to iconic French vocalists from the 1960s. She does maintain a seeming national tradition of draping every phrase with melancholy, though now Breut sounds more spectator than participant. The Typing Monkey must note that we understand just a few of the words she's singing, so if any of the vocal content is upbeat, she's still delivering it with a touch of sadness -- so French.

The nouvelle scène francais aims modern French pop toward the 21st century. Breut's giant step forward sounds and feels like she's the first one to actually reach that frontier. For all the desolation, she makes the trip worthwhile.

Reference material: Though more modern comparisons and contrasts surely exist, Françoiz Breut brings to mind an undamaged Marianne Faithful or a less manic Kristin Hersh.