French pop, despite critical fawning, is not all Hardy and Gainsbourg. It’s not all Stereolab, either. Hell, a lot of the time, it’s not even Daft Punk. Upon a recent trip to Paris with my girlfriend, I discovered that the musical charts in France, in spite of the predominance of English and American acts, are significantly made up of generic pop that’s just as bad as anything we’ve produced Stateside (well, almost). They’ve got a mulleted Jessica Simpson type singer, for one, named Lorie, and this dude named Johnny who, as far as I can tell, is sort of like a Parisian Rod Stewart. Knowing all this, it’s easy to understand why critical ears look past these examples and focus primarily on those who make French pop unique.
One such chanteuse is Francoiz Breut, a singer who has been releasing beautiful, moody Francophone pop records for the past decade. Her latest album Une Saison Volée is exactly the sort of cool and sophisticated album that we music writers look to when we think of “French pop.” Owing some of her influence to the aforementioned Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy, Breut’s palette is cross-continental, as her songs run a wide range of styles with vocals in four different languages.
Opening with “La Certitude,” a song that could have been pulled from a Stereolab or Broadcast album, Breut rocks out John Barry style, curiously melding her suave and sexy vocal stylings with a decidedly brash and upbeat backing. Yet this is followed by the first of a few English language tracks, “Over All.” Written by Herman Düne and featuring backup vocals by Calexico’s Joey Burns, it fits in well alongside the actual French tracks on the record, though few of them were actually written by Breut. This is not a criticism, mind you, just an observation.
Some more spacey, dreamy sounds emerge on “Le Ravin,” while it waltzes like a sped-up “House of the Rising Sun” halfway through the song. Then, after a brief interlude, comes “Ultimo,” a gorgeous and haunting melody with an Italian vocal and a repeated riff that will undoubtedly stay with you for days. “La Boîte de Nuit” gets a little bit trip-hoppy, layering ambient washes of guitar over danceable beats, with the occasional bit of distortion now and then. Another English sung, Herman Düne-penned track, “Please Be Angry,” adds a soft, somber touch to the album’s second half, despite its overdriven explosions between the verses and chorus. Then comes the one song I recognized immediately, “La Premier Bonheur du Jour,” most notably performed by Os Mutantes on their debut album. This version is, however, more densely layered with ambient sounds, making it different than that of the famed Brazilians, though not necessarily weirder.
The class, beauty and darker melodic underpinnings of Une Saison Volée make it one of the best French exports of late. Yet Francoiz Breut is no newcomer to pop music. She’s been recording solo and with bands for well longer than a decade and on a solid collection such as this, her talent and maturity truly shine.
Autour de Lucie – Faux Mouvement
Nico – Chelsea Girl
Keren Ann – Nolita
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.