Album Reviews

Felicia Atkinson & Sylvain Chauveau – Roman Anglais

(O Rosa) UK release date: 10 March 2008

Felicia Atkinson & Sylvain Chauveau - Roman Anglais All the clues were in the words. “Artist poet and songwriter from Paris (Felicia Atkinson) links up with a Parisien modern composer (Sylvain Chaveau) (who’s toured with Sigur Rós) to provide whispered French vocals backed with fragile, barely-there electronica”. But hark! What is that I hear tip-toeing in the background? Could it be the barely disguised po-faced cheek of artists wallowing in their own execrable pretentious outpourings?

Further proof is granted by the French-cliché-by-numbers of opener Aberdeen as Atkinson mutters away distractedly like some wine-soaked bus station loon tugging on a Gaulloise bedecked by garlands of garlic and onions (and not in a good Tom Waits kind of way) over a shimmering haze of treated strings. Flitting between French and English in muttered witterings of “down by the river, I shot down my baby” to replicate some sense of menace. The only thing missing from it is an accordion solo. If this tune was a colour, it would be black and white (with subtitles).

In Atkinson’s other works as artist, poet and songwriter she says she is interested in “the poetry of small things, in which are hidden the deep questions of existence.” No, really. She does. Inspired by Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy (is this the audio equivalent of wasabi? No). So to you and me this album is a mere inconvenience in the audio world; to her it contains the kernel of existence. Now rearrange these words. Clothes. New. Emperor’s.

This faux gravitas-by-numbers really grips my merde (excuse my French). Unfortunately it gets even worse when the music is described as attempting to “stay as close as possible to the abstract beauty of silence”. There is no abstract. That’s called ‘peace and quiet’ in my world. Wispy electronica with (gimme a break!) Anglo-French pretensions and vapid instrumentation tests the patience whilst delivering frustrating and aimless meanderings to achieve nothing more than a wisp of smoke and a gallic shrug.

Sylvain Cauveau’s frail backing reflects his background in providing ambient backing for film soundtracks. His ability to create washes of very similar tones and pulses, augmented by the occasional organic sound seem to barely exist, and when you do notice them they are fading slowly into the air. If they weren’t smeared with the punctuation of Atkinson’s (wished-for) depth of her tedious ‘narratives’ they would be telling a different story; one not bespoiled with aspirant bad poetry.

Unfortunately, this type of art (non) rock was done many years previous by the grandma of kook Laurie Anderson with her tone poems and finely honed sense of storytelling and musical point and counterpoint in creating moods and tensions. Elsewhere, How the light meanders around a ponderously slow guitar figure as gusts of tones breathe slowly around it.

Title track Roman Anglais smears the process over nearly twenty minutes of opaque soundscape of repeated electronic gonging and minimal fragmented ‘Franglais’ that ultimately neither intrigues, soothes, or stimulates the senses apart from a gnawing sense of ennui and time that could be better spent. The monotony/joy of repetition can of course be sonically thrilling (see Suicide, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno) but in these hands it merely flails pointlessly.

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Felicia Atkinson & Sylvain Chauveau – Roman Anglais