I may be starting off on the wrong foot here by admitting my ignorance of Fly Pan Am’s back catalogue. I played a song or two on my college radio show a few years back. And I’m somewhat familiar with other artists on their label, Constellation. But that said, my knowledge of Fly Pan Am’s music is fairly limited. I do know that they share members with Godspeed! You Black Emperor and even sound a lot like the Canadian group. I can also tell you that their album packaging is nearly high art, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you much. So going into their newest, N’ecoutez Pas, I had expectations, but they were limited.
When I actually heard N’ecoutez Pas, however, whatever fraction of an expectation I had was decimated. There are dreamy moments. There are sweeping instrumentals. There are some graciously beautiful aspects of the album. But on the whole, it’s much noisier and chaotic than I was expecting.
The music on N’ecoutez Pas sounds much less like Godspeed and more like My Bloody Valentine or Can. There are elements of noise rock, krautrock, musique concrete and shoegazer. And what may be the most surprising of all is that N’ecoutez Pas actually features vocals. This record is as close as the band has come to creating a pop record, though, in some ways, it comes nowhere near being a pop record. And that’s the funny thing about Fly Pan Am. They’re not an easily classifiable group. They’re accessible, sure. Innovative? No doubt. Exciting? You bet. But try to wrap them up in a neat little package of genre tags and you’ll find yourself frustrated.
Despite seemingly large stylistic leaps between songs, N’ecoutez Pas is a remarkably cohesive listen, equally potent in individual tracks or as a whole. Opener “Brûlez Suivant, Suivante” buzzes with distorted synths like vintage Stereolab, though substantially louder. Along with “Pas á Pas Step Until,” it’s the closest to pop songwriting the band gets. Though “Pas” is similarly accessible, borrowing more from Can and Sonic Youth. Both songs feature whispered lead vocals, minimal as they are, and lovely background harmonies. They combine beauty and discordance into a surprisingly successful combo.
Several songs are shorter and seem more like transitions between longer tracks. “Ex Éleveur de Renards Argentes” is a stewy brew of found sound. “Buvez Nos Larmes De Metal” almost sounds like incidental music in a cop show, mixing moody melodies with sounds of traffic and car horns. The curiously titled “…” is an ambient track that consists mostly of fluid guitar manipulations. Though all of these are shorter and less structured, they’re no less enjoyable than the meatier portions on Fly Pan Am’s plate.
The real standouts on N’ecoutez Pas are “Autant Zig-Zag” and “Tres Tres `Retro,'” two eleven-minute epics that explore more improvisational methods as well as more tightly structured ones. The former brings to mind Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine, as the guitars are drenched in distortion and whatever effects the band could mix with it. The latter, however, features more Can-like motorik grooves, employing a more repetitive method, though no less of a fascinating and enjoyable one.
Having heard N’ecoutez Pas in its entirety, I’m almost happier that I didn’t know much about the band before I did. It made the experience all that much more exciting and surprising. Fly Pan Am are an intriguing band that, I’m sure, have more surprises in store. Though one thing hasn’t changed — the album art. N’ecoutez Pas has one of the coolest-looking packages I’ve seen in a long time. And if that entices more people to pick up the album, then more power to `em.
Can – Tago Mago
Sonic Youth – Sonic Nurse
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.