Henri Texier – “Le Piroguier” (1976)
This is music that can only be called genre-free–spare, pure, feeling equal parts experimental and folk-made, calling to mind only other iconoclasts like Brigitte Fontaine & Areski or Emmanuelle Parrenin in its spooky stillness-through-rhythm. Consisting solely of acoustic and organic sounds–handclaps, wordless vocals, single-note bowed strings, and upright bass played in a whirling fashion–it feels vaguely Turkish or Moroccan. It’s elemental and at the same time futuristic, small and yet suggesting wide-open space. Simply beautiful–and inexplicably out of print, so grab it at the ever-essential Mutant Sounds.
Jane Birkin – “Kawasaki” (1973)
Birkin’s work here is indelibly imprinted with the signatures of Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier in top-flight ‘Melody Nelson’ mode, and that’s hardly a bad thing: those whirling strings, spare funky drums and bass, weeping guitar, and balanced temperaments of dynamism and melancholy are effective as ever. But Birkin’s half-sung, half-breathed vocals add a nice counterpoint to Gainsbourg’s more earthy speak-sing. The coy, coquettish album cover doesn’t hurt.
Pascal Comelade & Robert Wyatt – “September Song” (2000)
Pascal Comelade has made a lovely career of making smart music with toy instruments, and this collaboration with Robert Wyatt brings out the sweetest warmth from both. Nostalgic, whimsical, and simple, this song is the sound “golden days” captured perfectly. [Robert Wyatt is featured in varied contexts in several mixes at Musicophilia.]
Emmanuelle Parrenin – “Topaze” (1977)
I can guarantee you’d never match this track to its cover. Parrenin’s ‘Maison Rose‘ is an odd one, but fascinating: mostly pastoral in the Drake/Bunyan vein, but with bits of an edge that remind me a little of Laurie Anderson or Brigitte Fontaine or Linda Thompson; quite lovely and worthwhile. And then there’s this track, that seems like it’s from another album; but also from another time and place: abstract wailings ostensibly derived from a hurdy gurdy (the link with the rest of the album) are wrapped around a booming, single-note bass tone and then. . . holy shit, that beat: all echoed, sliced up, turned around, and utterly cool. Where this came from out of this artist, I don’t at all understand; Like a cousin to This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop, it’s simply out of nowhere. I’ll leave it for you to supply what genres it anticipated and by how many decades. All I know is, I can get completely lost in this beat, on repeat.
Jean-Jacques Perrey – E.V.A. (1970)
I love Pierre Henry, but I prefer his “serious” work to his most famous track, “Psyche Rock”. “E.V.A.” is sort of an alternative to “Psyche,” blending similar early sci-fi pop electronics with a funky backbeat and even the large bell accompaniment–but I’d have to say, I like Perrey’s take better, since this sort of electronics-popularising was his main thing. Sampled regularly and with good reason, “E.V.A.” is as cool today as forty years ago.
Maurice Ravel – “Sonatine 1: Modere” (1905)
Though I know little about classical music broadly speaking, I know I’m a sucker for the impressionistic, painterly styles of compositional music from around the turn of the 1900s: Satie, Debussy, Ravel. This is one of my favorites, though I have little language to describe it properly. It is delicate but not slight, rhythmically adventurous without being mathematical, virtuosic without being flashy, dynamic and sensitive. If pressed, though, I’d simply call it beautiful. [Ravel can be heard here and here in two of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
1906 [Jean-Michel Jarre] – “Helza” (1973)
Early Jean-Michel Jarre is too hard to find, considering how crazy-good a lot of it is, like the insanely cool, spooky proto-synth featured in this mix at Musicophilia. This one is a sublime example of the sort of elegant but funky stuff the French/Italians/Germans were doing with instrumentation borrowed from Motown in the early 70s, bringing in choice touches of early electro. A solid, close-miced rhythm section (bass, drums, clavichord) carries the weight of the track along with spare percussion and rhythm-flute a la early Kraftwerk, but what takes it to a magic level is a ghostly, reverbed piano line that floats over the top, and electronic bits floating around the periphery. Magic stuff.
Bernard Estardy – “Emeute À Tokyo” (1972)
Top-notch early-70s sound library stuff here from a Frenchman who seems to be consistently strong, whether working in this “Psyche Rock”-ish electro-jam mode or in a Gainsbourg-like Chanson idiom. This one is a nice funky breakbeat (with phasing no less!) and rollicking piano surrounded by diving, swirling synths, for a resulting high fun factor. Check it the full album at the completely essential Library Hunt. [Bernard Estardy is featured here in a fairly different mode at Musicophilia.]