jean claude vannier: l'enfant assassin des mouches

"France has had a long and undeserved bad reputation when it comes to pop. One of the primary reasons is that French pop continually mixes codes and doesn’t aspire to authenticity, to keeping it real. Listen to a mid-sixties Jacques Dutronc song and you will hear disparate elements brought together—a chanson vocal style, fuzz guitar, military drums playing a soul beat. Where a song by an English group of the time like the Rolling Stones works to be heard as part of a tradition, even if one from another country, the French music is like an assemblage in which the separate parts are still clearly visible.

Although this tendency in French popular music has led to its dismissal outside France in the oft repeated, and little examined, claim that the French just ‘don’t get’ pop, it is now what has led to its rediscovery and belated appreciation. In a world where sampling, interpolation, ironic appropriation and genre straddling are the norm, this approach begins to seem natural and in tune with what has become the dominant mode of cultural production. It now makes sense that this release of an obscure 1972 French instrumental concept LP comes with a cover sticker full of hip celebrity plaudits as the LP inflates the bolted together bricolage approach to a macroscopic scale.

Vannier began his career recording Arab musicians before working with maverick sixties pop stars like Brigitte Fontaine, Michel Polnareff and, most famously, Serge Gainsbourg. He collaborated initially with Serge on film scores before arranging Gainsbourg’s paedo-funk masterpiece L’Histoire de Melody Nelson. Following Nelson Vannier was given the chance to make a record of his own by a music publishing company aiming to break into the LP market and L’Enfant Assassins des Mouches was the result.

Although ostensibly a concept album, each track being accompanied by a gnomic text from Gainsbourg that eventually tells an Edgar Allen Poe like story of a war between a child and a fly, there is little in the way of continuity or repeated themes. Instead the key pleasure of the album lies in its discontinuities and the continuous invention of the combinations of sound presented. The album begins with musique concrete, with the sound of the tolling of bells, traffic on a road and the striking of a match, but the influence of concrete composition can be heard throughout in the disorientating cuts, absurd contrasts between tracks and the extreme dynamic shifts, which the remastering on this CD is thankfully good enough to keep. The transitions between and within pieces are almost as jarring as those on The Faust Tapes.

The structure also has the feel of a DJ mix tape, something compounded by the sounds on offer—crunchy drums that often move with the heavy lope that appeals to hip-hop producers, descending chord sequences of the type that Portishead jacked from Isaac Hayes, insolent lounge piano and woozy horn blur that reshapes itself into modernist dissonance. These are enveloped by Melody Nelson-esque choirs and molasses thick strings, apparently created by a multitracked quartet. This is an album that is still modern in form and execution but whilst the post-hip hop musics that it could be compared to almost inevitably even out all difference in a thick fug of blunt smoke, here the sound is red raw and dripping violence."

(patrick mcnally, stylus magazine)