Inventive alternative pop from Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck
I have been exchanging some musical favorites with a new reader. I turned her on to Mos Def’s “The Ecstatic.” In turn, she led me to a fantastic disc by Charlotte Gainsbourg. If you know Charlotte Gainsbourg, it is probably from her roles as an actress in The Science of Sleep or perhaps 21 Grams. It turns out she is also an accomplished musician, and her 2009 release, “IRM,” is a brilliantly realized album full of evocative and beautiful songs.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of a British actress and singer and a French singer/songwriter, actor, and director. Her uncle is a screenwriter. Her grandmother was an actress (in Noel Coward musicals). Her grandfather was a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy and a WWII espionage operative. I think it’s safe to say she has some heavy-duty genes working for her. All that intelligence, daring, and creativity have come together in Charlotte to create a multifaceted artist. Beck (Hansen) collaborated with her on this release and brings his prodigious songwriting and production talents to this album. You can hear his fingerprints all over this disc, but it doesn’t wind up sounding like just a Beck album. Instead, it is a true collaboration, with both artists making artistic contributions.
I recommend you check out these 8 tracks.
- Master’s Hands – This is a simple and quiet tune that Gainsbourg sings quietly in front of rhythmically vamping guitar and percussion that sounds like it’s played on homemade instruments. It’s an unassuming song except for the gorgeous strings bridge.
- IRM – This one sounds most like a Beck song, so she gets mechanical sounding synthesizer and prominent percussion. It’s not a pretty song, but this fully developed idea is funky and cool.
- Le Chat du Café Des Artistes – My French is even worse than my Spanish, so I don’t know what she’s singing, beyond a cat in a café full of artists or something. Most of the song is pretty cool, but the whole thing hangs from the strings arrangement, which is eerie and perfect.
- In the End – Acoustic guitar, violins, and glockenspiel support Gainsbourg on this appealing lullabye.
- Me and Jane Doe – This reminds me of some cross between Liz Phair and Animal Collective, if you can imagine such a thing. The guitar and backing vocals are repetitive, but I don’t get tired of the hook at the chorus at all. I love this song.
- Vanities – Here is another pensive, plodding song. The energy is low, but the harmonies are unexpected and gorgeous. Again, violins are used to great affect in fleshing out the song.
- Trick Pony – This song jumps out as a real rocker after some of the quietly beautiful songs that populate much of this album. I love the reverbed slide guitar at the end of the song.
- Dandelion – Gainsbourg’s breathy whisper and violins turn this blues riff into something like Beck playing with Dylan’s sound.
The thing I love most about this album is there are no half steps. The ideas are fully realized and listening to the songs one gets the feeling there are no accidents. Gainsbourg and Beck know exactly what they are trying to achieve with each song. The album goes to some interesting places without ever trying to do too much at once. I admire that kind of vision, focus, and inventiveness. Pick this one up for sure.
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