February 10, 2005

Various Artists: So Young But So Cold

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If you think all French pop boils down to Serge Gainsbourg, prepare for a rude awakening. Culling 16 tracks of despondent vocals and palpitating electronics, So Young But So Cold is a nearly comprehensive survey of the French underground from 1977 to 1983. Unlike their American counterparts, French radicals liked their music slow, simmering, ominous and repetitive — all the properties mainstream record producers tried to marginalize in the early ’80s. Ruth’s “Roman Photo” is a reverberating hum of kraut-rock keyboards, absurdly melodramatic vocals and Polaroid sound effects. The brilliantly named Mathematiques Modernes interject their spasmodic brass disco with unspooling tapes and impenetrable irony.

It’s a dense, austere album that might as well come from the Arctic Circle; it sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, though it clearly bears the traces of Eno, Kraftwerk, Joy Division and Pere Ubu. Nevertheless, the title track, performed by Kas Project, is unmistakably modern, seemingly anticipating all the territory between Warp Records and Outkast.

4 Stars

Archived article by Alex Linhardt