By Professor D. Grover the XIIIth. Greetings and salutations, friends. This is a review that has been in the works for months, in part because of my status as both a chronic procrastinator and as a Grown Up with Many Important Adult Things To Do (like Raising My Kids, Trying To Sell My House, and the old classic Working All The Fucking Time).By Professor D. Grover the XIIIth.
|This is the uncensored cover, not available with the download (click for full size).|
Greetings and salutations, friends. This is a review that has been in the works for months, in part because of my status as both a chronic procrastinator and as a Grown Up with Many Important Adult Things To Do (like Raising My Kids, Trying To Sell My House, and the old classic Working All The Fucking Time). However, it’s also in part due to the nature of the album I’m reviewing. You see, France’s öOoOoOoOoOo (aka Chenille, which is French for Caterpillar, and now the name makes sense) is the sort of band that is nigh impossible to describe because of the varied nature of their music. This is one of those rare chameleonic bands that changes styles numerous times throughout the course of a song, and how do you put something like that into words?
In the absence of a simple and concise way of describing öOoOoOoOoOo’s music, we can at least start with a few similar-ish bands to give us at least a point of reference. The most obvious is the ever-popular Mr. Bungle, and while the comparison isn’t exact (öOoOoOoOoOo tends to have more of a basis in metal and isn’t quite so scattershot), there’s a lot of common ground between the two, especially in the vocals (more on that in a moment). The next, somewhat obvious parallel would be in the French oddball duo Pin-Up Went Down, mostly because öOoOoOoOoOo vocalist Asphodel was also PUWD’s singer, but also because they shared a similarly wacky musical style. There are also parallels to the likes of Diablo Swing Orchestra, Pryapisme (whose drummer Aymeric Thomas handles session duty for öOoOoOoOoOo), Carnival In Coal, and the late great Unexpect, but make no mistake, öOoOoOoOoOo stands on its own.
öOoOoOoOoOo is a collaboration between the aforementioned Asphodel and French multi-instrumentalist Baptiste Bertrand, along with the session drumming of Aymeric Thomas. If you’re unfamiliar with Asphodel’s prior work, it cannot be stressed enough that she may be one of the most versatile vocalists in music. I mentioned before a comparison to Mr. Bungle, specifically to the voice of Mike Patton, and I can say in all fairness that Asphodel is at least Patton’s equal when it comes to sheer depth and breadth of vocal weirdness and range. This is not hyperbole; one needs simply listen to "Chairleg Thesis" or "Bark City (A Glimpse Of Something)" to get a taste of what Asphodel can do. Her voice soars to operatic highs, dips to lounge singer lows, detours to guttural grunts, and occasionally goes full-on childlike. It’s the sort of vocal performance that you honestly won’t find anywhere else.
It’s also the sort of vocal performance that needs appropriate accompaniment to reach its maximum potential, and on Samen Asphodel has found an effective counterpart in Bertrand, whose songwriting prowess is impressive for an unknown (I did some brief Googling and was unable to find any previous work in his name, making this an exceptionally impressive debut). There are moments when öOoOoOoOoOo goes full-blown death metal, but those moments are relatively rare and all the more precious because of it. Much of what Bertrand does plays off the vocals perfectly, finding moods and twists in the songs and bringing them out, from the lurching orchestral swing of "No Guts = No Masters" to the electronic underpinnings of "Fumigène" to the melancholy outro to "LVI" (I think that’s a xylophone). Bertrand’s musical prowess is absolutely essential to Samen, aided by the able drumming of Thomas (no stranger himself to weirdness thanks to his tenure in Pryapisme, a gloriously odd band in their own right).
Describing Samen, even in a track-by-track fashion, would be an exhausting and overwhelming task, and ultimately it would be pointless. This is not the sort of album that can be easily described in words any more than you could explain the color orange to a person blind from birth. This is the sort of musical adventure that needs to be experienced firsthand. It is, however, one of 2016’s most rewarding, refreshingly odd releases, and one well worth multiple listens. Stay weird, my friends.