Before my copy of IRM arrived I foolishly watched the ultra-disturbing film AntiChrist, rife with self-mutilation and un-sensual sexual mind games between a tormented coupled after the death of their infant son. To see the catastrophic journey that Gainsbourg’s character undergoes is harrowing and very difficult to watch. Needless to say I was shocked and the images haunted me for days. What would make an artist like Charlotte Gainsbourg allow her acting self to go on a journey like this for a director like Lars Von Trier? She put her trust in Trier and the result was more a Dutch Pop Psycho-babble Cinematic admonishment of our very self-interested culture.
Luckily, Charlotte survived her AntiChrist experience to be saved by the musical hands of a kinder and more rhythmically inspiring genius, Beck Hansen. The IRM sessions spawned a more flourishing collaboration between Beck and Charlotte. What surprised me about IRM was that it significantly far removed from a Beck album, with Gainsbourg’s vocals mixed on top of Hansen’s trademark eclectically funky backbeats. IRM is a musical alliance, and not the Dwight Schrute ulterior type as seen on The Office. From the opening chords of “Master’s Hands” you can feel that this duo wants to let you into to their Cross Continental collaboration that yields electrifying results.
“Masters Hands” has a very catchy European Jazz cafe feel with a continuous Robert Smith inspired acoustic riff circa “10:15 on a Saturday Night.” What you will realize from the opening track are the layers of shadow and light you hear within each track. Something that continuously astonishes me is the many extraordinary string arrangements throughout IRM. Listen to the strings layered on the very Parisian “Le Chat du CafÃ© des Artistes.” David Campbell’s strings have a very classic cinematic vibe in the style of Lalo Schirfin.
The title track is my favorite on the album. Now I don’t recommend this, for I come from the generation of the “Just Say No” philosophy of an anti-chemical lifestyle, but I have been lifted during the majority of the times I’ve listened to IRM and let me tell you it has enhanced my respect and enthusiasm for Charlotte’s album. I especially love the tripped-out breakdown where Beck’s backing harmonic calls are matched with Charlotte’s bringing to life the distressing experience of going through an actual magnetic scan on one’s brain. Gainsbourg has consistently stated that being inside those machines inspired her to create this vast soundscape of altered greatness.
IRM is Gainsbourg’s journey inside of her mind set to the backdrop of Beck’s delectably diverse and equally funky beats. But I do seem to appreciate the understated numbers like the very Velvet Underground & Nico flavored “In the End.” It has this romantic stroll through the streets of Paris with Campbell’s lush string arrangement to match. If you were waiting for a Beck and Charlotte duet, sent from above, “Heaven Can Wait” is a very lazy acoustic classic that perfectly matches Hanson and Gainsbourg’s vocal like star-crossed musical hitchhikers trying to find salvation in the guise of this magnificent song.
So many memorably addictive songs to mention, IRM is already going on my best albums of 2010 list. I know it’s early but we at Treble like to get started on these kinds of vinyl geek lists that we ponder from the moment the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Spending your nights with an album like IRM and songs like the mysterious yet glorious “Vanities” will send you on a voyage, with Charlotte as your chanteuse and Beck as your musical conductor. All aboard. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, light it up, and inhale these hauntingly beautiful sounds. Just imagining feeling scared and powerless inside that machine would traumatize me. But Charlotte decided to make an album about her experience, and IRM is a trip to be savored today, tomorrow and beyond.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Beck – Sea Change
Broadcast – The Noise Made by People