Think of French music and you probably think of the kind of breathy-voiced Gallic schmaltz peddled by the likes of Carla Bruni, or perhaps Daft Punk and Justice’s club-friendly electronica. What probably doesn’t automatically spring to mind is coldwave, the dark, post-punk influenced synthpop that emanated from France and Belgium in the late ’70s and ’80s – but Matthieu Lescop seems determined to change that.
Formerly the frontman for La Rochelle-based punk band Asyl, Lescop has struck out on his own with a self-titled album of what his label Pop Noire call ‘deliciously cruel’ and ‘poisonous’ coldwave-indebted songs. Like fellow Pop Noire signing Savages, Lescop cherrypicks ideas from the bands of the past 30 or so years and skillfully recycles them into something that sounds familiar but without verging into parody or caricature.
While Savages’ unabashedly aggressive music looks to the fierce, stripped-down guitar noise of early Siouxsie & The Banshees and Gang Of Four, though, Lescop owes more to the poppier, synth-led music of bands such as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, fusing it with the repetitive, low-key nature of krautrock bands like Neu! and throwing in some big old atmospheric guitar parts of the kind that White Lies, Maxïmo Park or The Big Pink would be proud.
Also like Savages, Lescop takes a slightly pretentious, holier-than-thou approach to his music that will no doubt get on peoples’ wires – according to the Pop Noire website he has ‘rebuilt himself in his own exalting paradoxes’, whatever the hell this means – but he and Savages’ Jehnny Beth do at least have the excuse of being French. You expect this sort of thing from the French. As lofty as his ambitions are, though, Lescop as an album doesn’t quite reach the ‘cruel’ and ‘poisonous’ summits that it’s clearly got its heart set on.
The 11 songs on the album are all damn good examples of the kind of melancholy synth-led indie that people who consider themselves above Swedish House Mafia like to put on at parties, but they never really live up to the ominous billing that this label’s given them. The disturbing, unpredictable records that have been offered up by Scandinavian electro acts like Vår and Lust For Youth recently make Lescop look like a Donna Summer LP. Jehnny Beth can be heard exclaiming “I like Lescop, Lescop is really cute isn’t it!” in the middle of opening track La Forêt, which is just about the whole problem in a nutshell: if it’s possible for your music to be described as ‘cute’ by the frontwoman of one of the more unsettling, unhinged-sounding punk bands to emerge recently, it probably isn’t quite as creepy as you’d like to think it is.
None of this is to say that Lescop isn’t a good album in itself. Aforementioned debut single La Forêt provides a subtle but punchy opener that sets the tone for the record as a whole, all jittery synth blips, monotone vocal harmonies and scratchy-but-sonorous guitar hooks over atmospheric keyboard drones and crisp drumbeats. La Nuit Américaine and Paris S’Endort are understated and mournful but never lose momentum; Tokyo, La Nuit and Un Rêve are more uptempo if no more upbeat, bringing to mind the unashamedly Eighties exuberance of Twin Shadow.
The entire album is pervaded with a sense of detached nocturnal disaffection, its titles namechecking far-off foreign cities like Ljubljana and Los Angeles in which a lone Frenchman like Lescop can disappear into anonymity. If you’re in the market for a record that was seemingly designed for depressed people to drive around at night to, you may just have found it.