We’ve been eagerly awaiting this, the debut album by Clémentine March for quite some time now. It cannot be avoided that seems somewhat fitting, in a bittersweet way, that the release date of an album called “Le Continent” fell on Brexit day.
Having been a touring musician with Bamboo, Snapped Ankles, Rozi Plain, Alabaster dePlume, Dana Gavanski and countless others, March has quite some musical pedigree.
Originally from France but resident in London, she sings for the most part in her native language which immediately marks her out from most singer songwriters in the country. When people have little idea as to what your lyrics are, you rely on the quality of the melodies and musicianship. March, being a multi instrumentalist of note, thankfully has this in spades.
The latest signing to the ever reliable Lost Map, we were captivated by the excellent first single “Le Continent” when we first heard it during a live set in the summer. It’s a superbly jaunty pop song that bounces along like prime Pavement if they were fronted by Laetitia Sadier (an obvious reference point, but one that feels entirely appropriate here).
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start at the beginning.
“Une Bougie” opens the record with a beautiful guitar line and March singing the sweetest of melodies. The song builds subtly with a single soft beaten drum and floating synth. It serves as dreamy opener and a great counterpoint to the delightful “Demi-Soupir”, with it’s punchy drumbeat, lightly distorted chugging guitars and off-kilter soloing. It’s simple and brilliant pop songwriting. Title track “Le Continent” is up next. The confounding vocal melody in the verses shouldn’t work but it really, really does.
There are great keyboard counter-melodies and a superb squealing (we think) flute. The helpful music video translation points to the lyrics suggesting a longing for escapism and adventure. “I wish I lived on a mountain, up there I would work on my echo” she sings in the chorus.
“Abribus” is a curious song. The percussion almost sounds like someone tapping on the table. Accompanied by a wandering bassline, light keyboard touches and a wobbly drone it’s a difficult song to pinpoint or describe.
What’s impressive is the variety of approaches throughout ‘Le Continent’.
No two songs really sound too much alike yet there’s a great warmth at the very heart of the record.
“Elixir” with it’s lo-fi guitar strum and twinkling piano towards the end has notes of antifolk hero Jeffrey Lewis. “Sous Ta Peau”, which translates to “Under your skin”, has a dark edge to its melody. There’s a foreboding atmosphere about it – the echo on the drums, the swirling wind-like synth and eery rattlesnake fizzes that pan from speaker to speaker.
“Le Mont Olympe” features some gorgeous lap steel guitar and serves as the first point on the record at which the language switches to English halfway through. Guest singer Amélie Rousseaux (AKA Sofia Bolt) takes the lead in the duet with the beautiful refrain “lets just be normal human beings”.
“Late In The Evening” has more than a hint of Belle and Sebastian circa “The Life Pursuit”. The funk-lite guitar, hand claps, simple pop melodies and piano touches are a joy. It’s a masterful piece of songwriting and you can hear the smile on March’s face while she’s singing it.
“That same old feeling” certainly can be quite pleasing.
“Les Naufrages” with its waspy synth and simple and sparse vocal melodies instantly recalls Sterolab but also has that sense of wackiness inherent in the solo work of Stephen Malkmus.
“Temperature”, the longest track here, clocking in at a still reasonably compact four minutes four seconds, is a wonderfully moody track. There is so much space. The only constant is the sub bassline. The piano and drums are super sparse and this all allows March’s vocals to take centre stage.
“Feux Rouges” has a superbly odd atmosphere. The strange synth sounds, the surfy slide guitar and the chorus bring to mind Super Furry Animals “Mwng”. In the last few seconds it sounds like it is just about to rock out but abruptly stops, providing a comical anticlimax. “Chemins Croises” builds in a really satisfying way, written in three clear sections with different moods. It starts very softly, almost tiptoeing in, before shifting into a Hefner-esque section. This in turn gives way to a rather spooky sounding fuzzy outro.
The final track “Sans Visage” provides a soft landing with some great rhythmic play. The drums are busy, without taking too much prominence, the two guitars chime and float.
It’s a fitting closer to what is a really accomplished and highly enjoyable debut album. The melodies are strong throughout and there is an infectious playfulness that will have you coming back for repeat listens.
You may enjoy this if you like: Stereolab, Pavement, Belle and Sebastian
‘Le Continent’ is out now via Lost Map.