Let me admit something before we start that may shock and appall you… I don’t speak French. When reviewing a mostly French speaking album this would have come in handy – I could have deciphered whether the lyrics were deep and witty, or commenting on recent political debates – but unfortunately I can’t do any of this. However, in many cases lyrics don’t make an album; it’s the musical content and what they do with it that counts, and so from a non-French speaking perspective, can the album hold its own?
French is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. It rolls off the tongue eloquently and you could say the most pointless and irrelevant thing in the language, but from a foreigners ears it will sound smooth, silky and seductive. That’s one of the strong points of the record; its use of sound. The band knows how to tailor a song to perfection with a plethora of instruments, intertwining beautifully with the language of love. Album opener Bois is testament to this; sounding like a cross between Massive Attack and Pink Floyd, it opens with rhythms reminiscent of a human heartbeat, and moves on to echoed lyrics and random instruments creating a well rounded track.
But the album doesn’t stay in this floaty psychedelic structure for long, it immediately switches it up with La Verite, a much happier track with pop undertones that somehow manages to feel like Arcade Fire without the depression. The trick is repeated on Reveil Inconnu, but taking more of a dance recipe from fellow countrymen Daft Punk which helps add more flavour to the record and allows it to wander into different directions.
When the band does decide to venture into English lyrics, it still manages to work well. Lead singer Francois Marry seems to sound like Ray Davies from The Kinks with a hint of French accent when he does, and this ends up being a good thing because it usually fits in with the style of the song perfectly. This is shown on tracks Summer of the Heart and Fancy Foresight – if you didn’t know any better it would seem as though The Kinks front-man had teamed up with Belle and Sebastian. This turns out to work really well and gives another level to the album
So with their mastery of sound, Francois and the Atlas Mountains have released their best album to date. It rarely leads you into mediocre territory and constantly changes the atmosphere to keep the listener intrigued. I’m off now to pick up a French dictionary – with the amount of decent music coming from the country these days it could come in handy.