Francois & The Atlas Mountains are markedly different to many of the more recent cross-Channel exports. Far from being guided by electronica, this first French signing for London-based Domino Records combine just the right doses of escapism and romance to give their music genuine allure.
E Volo Love – yes, it’s a palindrome – is a floating collection of pretty, charming tracks that wholly evoke France, despite the band currently being rooted in Bristol. Fránçois Marry, hailing from near La Rochelle, is the group’s creative engine, while the foursome also includes Scottish-bred Gerard Black, who made a name for himself playing with Bill Wells and Findo Gask prior to this latest venture.
Their list of credentials lengthens on the back of recent European tours with Electrelane, Camera Obscura and King Creosote & Jon Hopkins. The band has made something a name for themselves in France, and there’s nothing on E Volo Love to suggest they won’t be able to make a dent here. After all, it matters nothing that linguistics are split between French and English, as their indie pop has wistful charm in abundance and its restraint from overbearing twee should also please British sensibilities.
North African drums and percussive rhythms regularly crop up on the album, hinting at the cultural impact the continent has had upon French music. Tabla drums and soft guitars spike Les Plus Beaux – literally translated as ‘the most beautiful’, while Edge Of Town is prefixed by similar beats and melodies that are doused in red wine and fireside plans to buy a love nest in the suburbs.
It’s not just French folk that breathes life into the album. There are traces from Scandinavia and America where Do You Want to Dance’s stripped back musicianship forces the spotlight onto its vocals, and during City Kiss, where the softness of Kings Of Convenience is traded with the lyrical frankness of Los Campesinos!
A constant across E Volo is Fránçois’ ability to communicate feelings of love in a way that’s quite alien to us across the channel. It’d make the average British gent recoil in horror if he was told he too had to be as deliberately and overtly romantic. Even the song titles coyly beguile – Cherchant Des Ponts means ‘looking for bridges’, while Bail Eternal literally means ‘lease eternal’. Marry appears just as much the lovestruck, slightly avant garde Frenchman you want him to be; even on Muddy Heart he’s not afraid to declare “I’m trying to please you” with repeated desperation.
But all this delving into dreamy, escapist territory can all get a bit much. Azrou Tune’s wind instruments only temporarily mask something that’s more sickly sweet than bewitching, and the muzak-funk of Slow Love renders it forgettable, in its own sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Recent single Piscine is at odds with much of the album, fitting more with what we’re used to from a French export more of a Kitsuné ilk. But the biggest surprise – and a welcome one at that – arrives in the form of the grunge Britpop guitars of Buried Treasures, which has all of the self-flagellation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Rifling through a handful of the immediate associations believed to be synonymous with all things French, Francois & The Atlas Mountains wouldn’t even be a Channel’s width away from confirming most of those correct. From every pore, E Volo Love oozes the kind of rosy view of the country’s amalgam of political views, its slightly haphazard, but essentially ordered way of life, sunny road trips, vineyards and plages in sunsets. In truth, the album occasionally forces longing for something more grounded in sobering reality, but it’s the romantic view of France that it exudes which will capture the hearts of those from these isles.