Thursday, 9 July 2020

Serge Gainsbourg ‎– Histoire De Melody Nelson (1971)

Genre: Rock, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Philips, Universal Music, Mercury

1.   Melody
2.   Ballade De Melody Nelson
3.   Valse De Melody
4.   Ah! Melody
5.   L'Hotel Particulier
6.   En Melody
7.   Cargo Culte

Vocals – Jane Birkin
Producer, Arranged By, Conductor – Jean-Claude Vannier
Recorded By – Jean-Claude Charvier, Rémy Aucharles

Serge Gainsbourg had no great attachment to genre. By the time he came to rock music, in his early 40s, the French star had traced his oblique, provocative course through chanson (French vocal music), jazz, and light pop. He'd made percussive café jams about suicide and given Eurovision popstrels France Gall and Françoise Hardy songs full of blowjob puns. Later on he'd make a rock'n'roll album about the Nazis and a reggae take on the French national anthem. A pattern emerges: Gainsbourg hops from style to style, but with a terrific instinct for finding the most startling content for any given form. 
So it's no surprise his rock work-- the early 1970s albums, of which Histoire de Melody Nelson is the first and finest-- was so original. Melody Nelson is a collaboration with composer and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier, who assembled a bunch of top sessionmen for the album. But Gainsbourg and Vannier had little interest in the conventions that had accreted around early 70s rock. Like a lot of 1971 records, Histoire de Melody Nelson is a concept album: Unlike most, it's only 28 minutes long. The songs are lavishly orchestrated, yet the dominant instrument isn't guitar or organ but rather Herbie Flowers' lascivious, treacly bass, playing a seedy, rambling take on funk. 
That bass is the first sound you hear on Melody Nelson, quietly tracking up and down in a windscreen-wiper rhythm: Gainsbourg starts talking in French 30 seconds later, describing a night drive in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The album is routinely described as "cinematic," but the music is more of a mindtrack than a soundtrack-- a tar pit of introspection when Gainsbourg's brooding narrator is alone at the record's beginning and end, then giddy and savage by turns as he conducts his affair with the 15-year-old Melody across the short tracks in the album's middle. One of these-- "Ballade de Melody Nelson"-- is, even at two minutes, one of Gainsbourg's most assured and alluring pop songs.

A lot of Gainsbourg's records are hard sells for Anglophone ears-- the music is there to illuminate and pace the man's riotous, sensual wordplay. But Gainsbourg's alliance with Vannier produced a true collaboration: The arrangements seem to respond almost intuitively to the twists in Gainsbourg's language and narrative, to the point where they're carrying as much storytelling weight as the words. Even if your French stops at "bonjour", the music lets you know that this is a record about a dark, obsessional love. On "L'hôtel Particulier", for instance-- describing the sleazy grandeur of the rented rooms where the narrator and Melody make love-- Gainsbourg's voice shudders with lust and dread, and the music responds, flares of piano and string breaking into the song over an impatient bassline. 
The actual story of Histoire de Melody Nelson is pretty negligible in any case-- man meets girl, man seduces girl, girl dies in freak plane crash. Melody herself (played by Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg's then-lover) is a cipher-- a breathed name, a ticklish squeal or two, and red hair. The album is all about its narrator: A natural obsessive just looking for an object; introspective before he meets Melody, more so after her death. First and final tracks "Melody" and "Cargo Culte" are musical siblings, with only the wordless chorales on "Cargo Culte" really distinguishing them. 
Together these songs take up more than half the record, and when people claim Melody Nelson as an influence, it's almost certainly with this pair in mind. The soundworld they create is like nothing else in rock-- orchestra, bass, and voice circling one another, blending slow funk, intimate mumbling, and widescreen scope. One precedent is the epic soul Isaac Hayes had been pioneering, but where Hot Buttered Soul is full of warmth and engagement, the bookend tracks of Melody Nelson are a trip through far more hostile territories, the black spaces of a man's interior. 
Gainsbourg realized he'd made something special-- he named his publishing company Melody Nelson after his fictional muse-- but, restless as ever, he didn't follow it up: His next album was a sequence of pretty acoustic songs, mostly about shit. Herbie Flowers, whose bass is the undertow pulling the album together, surfaced a year later playing on Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side", whose bassline is the first ripple of Melody Nelson's wider pop culture influence. Since then it's been left to others-- Jarvis Cocker, Beck, Tricky, Air, Broadcast-- to pick up this record's breadcrumb trail. But Gainsbourg's dark focus, and Vannier's responsiveness, aren't easily equalled. This reissue on luxuriously hefty vinyl is the first time the album's been released in the U.S.-- a superb opportunity to hear a record that's been occasionally imitated but never matched.
Tom Ewing / Pitchfork

Paper Tiger ‎– Rogue Planet (2019)

Genre: Electronic, Hip Hop, Funk / Soul
Format: Vinyl
Label: Wah Wah 45s

A1.   Yeah Yeah
A2.   The Cycle
A3.   [Quick Wash]
A4.   Slinky
A5.   Lullaby
A6.   Cheeky Chops
A7.   Slow Motion
B1.   An Ancient Secret
B2.   [Safe With Me]
B3.   Old
B4.   Posture Poseurs
B5.   Bioluminescent
B6.   [Mega]
B7.   What I Wish I'd Said
B8.   Time Travels

Lyrics By, Vocals – Raphael Attar
Trumpet – Chris Williamso
Written-By, Performer – Adam Radley, Greg Surmacz, Matt Davies, Oliver Cadman, Sam Vicary
Arranged By, Producer, Mixed By – Greg Surmacz

The Leeds and London-based outfit are back with their third album ‘Rogue Planet’ a combination of elements from live recordings and improvisations, with an emphasis on blending organic sounds with electronic production techniques. It’s a trip through Electronic, funk, hip hop and soul, brimming with textured samples and intriguing progressions, demonstrating the enviable musicianship on show here. Paper Tigers previous playing credits include Yellow Days, Werkha, Nubiyan Twist, Cinematic Orchestra and have collaborated with Shafiq Husayn, Chester Watson and Foreign Beggars on previous projects. All this should give you an idea of what to expect from ‘Rogue Planet’ but expectations should be left at the door as this is a cosmic leap from their previous work. 
Band leader Greg Surmacz explains: “There is still humour and a sense of playfulness hopefully – largely provided by our MC Raphael Attar – but the overall sound is much more lush, jazzy and soulful. We wanted to make something that fits into our universe but hits a deeper emotional nerve.” 
‘Rogue Planet’ has a diverse range of guests from the legendary Steve Spacek on lead single ‘The Cycle’ to Olivia Bhattacharjee on ‘Bioluminescent’ and Chicago-born/LA-based MC Lando Chill on the ironically titled ‘Slow Motion’ which with his quick-fire delivery is anything but. The album is a rich and varied listen with G-Funk-esque melodies running throughout, joined by reverberating celestial horns and scattered drum patterns. The result is music which is interesting and technically proficient, but remains vibrant, colourful and funky. 
People say you should never judge a book by its cover, in this instance you should never judge an album by its intro track. As ‘Yeah Yeah’ opens you may get the impression you’re in for a bit of Grime with the stripped back beats and MC Raphael Attars clever swaggering rap “Looking like I couldn’t give a f**k” but Paper Tiger flip it on the following track ‘The Cycle’ (featured above) which ends on a nice jazz fused outro [QUICK WASH]. ‘Slinky’ goes all lo-fi with some dreamy instrumental work which just floats out into the atmosphere but don’t get too high because MC Raphael Attars bitter-sweet rap of a single fathers ‘lullaby’ of reassurance to his child brings you down to earthly reality but just ever so briefly before your sent off again with another instrumental delight ‘Cheeky Chops’, tight beats and some smooth saxophone accompaniment. Solid drum work and a slick flow from Lando Chill brings a bit of bounce to the collection here and sets you up perfectly for ‘An Ancient Secret’ with its playful vibe sliding into a space jazz outro [Safe With Me]. Back with MC Raphael Attar and reflections on the daily grind of living in today’s world and what comes with that sudden feeling you may be getting on a bit, ‘Old’ is a slice of reality but with a humorous take rather than that of melancholy. Next up is ‘Posture Poseurs’ an electronic mini adventure with some fine horns that leads up to our third guest vocal track ‘Bioluminescent’ , staggered beats, improv style organ and heavenly vocals from Olivia Bhattacharjee hit all the right notes. [MEGA] comes in with a fast paced but brief interlude of twisted electronica, staccato style beats and dub flavoured sirens led along by a cool modulating synth line. ‘What I Wish I’d Said’ is back with the rhymes of MC Raphael Attar on a bed of understated beats and spaced out synth, its’ a brutally honest take on things often thought but never said when an acquaintance or friend is in an abusive relationship, gritty and unflinching. So we come to the end of our journey with a perfect outro track ‘Time Travels’ minimal beats with organ infused piano and a cool double bass, lo-fi bliss and a fitting end to a quality body of work. 
The album and its music bring a message of not opting for the easy route in life, and always challenging oneself. “This world in which we live is somewhere we all want to hide from at some point and we certainly hope our music offers something to get lost in, but this album feels more connected and optimistic: hopeful rather than escapist. In these challenging times it’s important to engage, no matter how tempting it is to do the opposite.” A transmission of hope from the far reaches of the universe.
Adrian Barr / backseat mafia