Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains went political on 2017’s Solide Mirage, describing it as “a response to recent world affairs”. However, their sixth release Banane Bleue (translated as, yes, Blue Banana) brings back the smooth-edged pop of their back catalogue, all the while becoming more contemplative and pleasant to listen to. Frànçois’ new release has a warm and welcoming feel, which stays throughout the record.
The album is nomadic, with parts recorded in various major European cities including Athens, Berlin and Paris. This nomadic spirit is captured from the off on opener The Foreigner, a track which combines middle-eastern oud strings and gentle percussion to offer a transient lead into a continental expression of human existence.
The album’s title is taken from geographer Roger Brunet’s term for the corridor of European cities from Liverpool to Milan, creating an interconnected megalopolis. The songs on this album certainly apply this concept on a deeper level. The lead single Coucou (translated loosely as “hey there”) expresses the end of a relationship while giving an insight into the absurdity of forming relationships, to a backdrop of laid back guitars and swirling keys. Frànçois admits he dislikes the word “coucou”, passing it off as something that is “insipid”.
The theme of place is matched by with the outward looking collaboration on the record with Helsinki-based composer Jakko Eino Kalevi which helps craft blissful moments that make this an enticing pop record. Songs like Julie and Holly Golightly capture the joyous and dreamy sense of ’60s nostalgia, evoking the petticoat pop of Donovan and The Kinks. These songs signify romance and enrapture you on a journey through the eyes of the flâneur, daydreaming and painting portraits with your mind.
Other tracks take us down a contemplative route with their subject and structure. Revu is an expansive number with its NEU-esque intro drifting in the background from the steady motorik beat and oscillating electronics encapsulating an urban metropolis, while the lyrics capture the dramatic tension of encountering an ex-lover. The moody electronics on Tourne Autour (translating roughly as beat about the bush) evoke the awkward confrontation between the self and relationships. The most philosophical endeavour on the album comes on Gold & Lips, a track that brings more nostalgia to the table with Leonard Cohen and Steve Reich being influences on the instrumentation and style. The lyrics appear in English, rather than Frànçois’ native French, as elsewhere.
The album comes to a dramatic climax on Dans Un Taxi, with provocative synth-pop that casts an abstract shadow over the record, reinforcing a surreal dream-like feeling towards the end. The gleaming synth notes evoke a Brian Eno-esque idea for living creating a harmonic utopia in the process.
Banane Bleue is a contrast of blissful pop music and highly contemplative soundscapes, juxtaposing our ideal version of living and a difficult outer reality. This record captures the essence of ‘the blue banana’, a place too vast to navigate and too complex to fully understand.