For his first album in fifteen years, St Germain’s Ludovic Navarre went all out in an attempt to keep things fresh on this self-titled album. St Germain is full of foreign influences, partially moving away from the acid jazz stylings of Tourist and into a more organic sound characterised by elements of African Mali music. Some house and jazz elements are still scattered throughout the album, but it’s a very different beast to anything Germain has done before.
St Germain still has all the extended grooves you’ve come to expect from Navarre; the album’s shortest track is still over five minutes long, meaning songs have a lot of time to grow and evolve. There are quite a few moments where this works to the album’s favour: Real Blues focuses on catchy riffs performed with a kora and balafon, both West African instruments, and sampled vocals to create the album’s finest jam session, never letting up over five minutes but never growing stale. Forget Me Not again puts the kora at the front of the track, surrounding it with a downtempo synth arrangement, giving it a more relaxed vibe than Real Blues and closing the album out on a perfect mixture of Navarre’s roots and his newfound African influences.
How Dare You, however, is less successful. Mixing similar instrumentation to the rest of the album with blues influences, straight down to a vocal sample of Mississippi blues singer R. L. Burnside, makes for an awkward mixture that throws the first half of the song into disarray. It finds its groove in the heavier African style of its second half, but instead ends on a house beat, again throwing the song in a confusing direction. Family Tree similarly mixes a jazz arrangement with African vocal samples, moving from a jazz intro to an African middle section and ending on another house beat; not as radical as How Dare You, but the result isn’t significantly better either.
As such, it’s safe to say St Germain is an interesting experiment, but one that doesn’t always quite work out. There are some instances where the mixture of electronic music, jazz and African influences work together, such as on Forget Me Not, but a good third of the album falls apart because of it instead. But even if it can be messy and long-winded more than a few times across its length, there’s some stellar work put into St Germain. It’s a conflicting package, but one with some defining moments behind it.