As with the best French films, so with the best French music. The French keep it to themselves, shower it with awards and then casually mention to their neighbours across la mer that les Anglaises may like to hear it – a year later. In the case of Camille’s second solo record Le Fil, released in France in 2005, the delay is scarcely forgiveable. Albums this spontaneously inventive should not be the property of one nation.
One-time Nouvelle Vague singer Camille Dalmais here begins with the avant-garde concept of a thread linking all things. This she applies visually, to the packshot, from where it drapes across her image. In it she stares out with Mona Lisa like neutrality, neither smiling nor frowning. The thread is also present aurally, as a low frequency tone right through the album, like some musical washing line on which to hang the bedsheets of ideas Camille combusts with.
If this all sounds terribly pretentious and too arty for its own good, it’s worth mentioning that those selfsame bedsheets of musical expression range from a mix of bass, claps, squelches, pants and harmonised vocals in Ta douleur through the half-English Baby Carni Bird, with background piano adding texture to the mix, to closing electro lullaby bossa nova of Quand je marche. And this is not an electronic album but rather one in which a singer has discovered that samplers and looping can help with melodies and harmonies as much as they can with rhythm.
For comparisons, perhaps inevitably Bj�rk‘s a capella Medullah album comes to mind. Vocal sample loop noodlings underlie a sweet voice that, at whim, can become angry, unsettling, imploring or playfully kittenish – sometimes all at once (Janine II). There’s more than a little Laurie Anderson about the atmospherics of the record, while the new wave meets bossa nova mash-up of her former troupe Nouvelle Vague could hardly be further removed from this work.
The record’s strength in depth is revealed when it is played in random order, as each track finds its own space to grow in the listener’s affections. The mystical Pour que l’amour me quitte dispenses with the looped samples in favour of arpeggiated guitar and Camille’s reverbed singing voice, while Vous references Tony Blair and Voltaire and asks the quirkily essential question: “To romance you, shall I use the ‘tu’ or the ‘vous’? Or shall I just say ‘you’ like the English do?” Inspired – and trans-Channel love affairs surely depend on an answer.
A timely reminder of the album’s nationality is provided by Au Port, arguably the most French-sounding piece on the record, where Camille’s vocals range thrillingly from breathless urgency via soaring soprano to whispered entreaties. It’s another track that gets ever more fascinating with each listen – and Janine III’s contrasting alienesque rants that follow demonstrate exactly why this lady needs to be heard.
Camille offers convincing proof to lingering doubters that the French are well capable of rising above English perceptions of their musical output. Now all we need is for somebody in France to bother to tell us poor rosbifs when one of their citizens makes a fine work of art, in a timely fashion, and cease being so greedy. What chance, mes amis?