January 11, 2012

Review: Francois & The Atlas Mountains – ‘E Volo Love’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , at 1:39 pm by essentiallyeclectic

If you didn’t already know, François Marry is a French ex-pat with a cutesy accent and an ear for a bit of esoteric yet essentially quaint indie, while his Atlas Mountains are an ever-changing group of musicians that flesh out his distinctive ideas with interesting arrangements and instrumentation. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the group would have past associations with the King Creosote-centric Fence collective, who released Marry’s third LP Plaine Inondable a couple of years ago. Now with Domino, little has changed with Marry’s delicate, occasionally touching style.

Although a fully certified Bristolian, Marry took his band back to his home town of Saintes, close to La Rochelle in southwest France, to do the whole recording-in-a-church thing for E Volo Love. The real Atlas Mountains may be a range in the north of Africa, but it’s the rhythmic highlife/juju guitar work of the French colonial west of the continent that informs some of the tracks here. This is most clear on opener ‘Les Plus Beaux’, one of the stronger cuts on the album, Marry perhaps unwisely playing his trump card from the off. The track pairs a rolling guitar figure — as much Graceland as it is King Sunny Ade — with an affecting, harmonised chorus.

On hearing ‘Les Plus Beaux’ (and the affecting stomp of following track ‘Muddy Heart’), it comes as no surprise that Jean-Paul Romann, a big player in the Tinariwen projects, is in control of production duties for E Volo Love.

‘Edge of Town’ slinks along with a yacht-funk groove and tuned wooden percussion, while ‘City Kiss’ picks up the pace with some driving guitar lines and tales of early morning bedrooms with curtains not yet drawn from the night before.

Marry certainly has a lot to offer with his music, but too often falls short of the mark. Most rough edges are coated in a thick, syrupy layer of twee: clear and clipped French or polite English vocals, often indefensibly quaint lyrical themes, a propensity for AOR grooves (see ‘Slow Love’ for an example of all three). Marry’s voice, meanwhile, relies heavily on a tone of childlike innocence that some may warm to, but others may not be able to get around in order to enjoy the often intricate and confidently composed music behind it.

That said, sometimes things click, as with the ghostly harmonies on early release ‘Royen’, or ‘Buried Treasures’, whose lamenting vocal recalls Bradford Cox’s work as Atlas Sound (Coincidence? Probably).

Despite only inconsistent flashes of real quality, E Volo Love is more rhythmically alive than Plaine Inondable’s listless plod, and perhaps Marry’s most accomplished work to date.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

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