Trippy, Creepy Surf Rock from France’s La Femme

by delarue

If there was a surf band in Blade Runner, or in Jabba the Hut’s lounge, it would be La Femme. The French group sound like no other band on the planet – or maybe the universe. While many of the tracks on their latest album, Psycho Tropical Berlin – streaming at Youtube – are instrumentals, the band’s latest shtick is to have a mystery woman guest as vocalist on many of the tracks, appropriate enough considering what the band call themselves. They’re at Glasslands on March 23 at 11ish for $12.

Their basic m.o. is to surround their often creepily Lynchian, twangy surf guitar with all kinds of layers of synths, some of them weirdly offcenter and adding to the uneasy ambience, some of them pretty cheesy. Their French lyrics often aim for humor, with mixed results: the music is the point here. The album’s opening track, Antitaxi, sets the stage: noir sci-fi keys speed up to a motorik spy movie theme of sorts, which gives way to shivery faux organ and eventually the Ventures-in-space guitar kicks in. Amour Dans le Motu makes a creepier cousin to that number, an organ-fueled baroque surf number with an unexpectedly atmospheric mellotron interlude midway through.

The band’s titular song is funk-pop with tremolo-bar guitar: on one level, it’s totally 80s, on another it’s completely original to this band. A slow Lynchian tone poem simply titled Interlude is next, followed by the equally Lynchian reggae of Hypsoline and Sur la Planche 2013, which takes early Ventures noir forward fifty years in time with synth bass and a big shuffling drum crescendo.

They go back to reggae, with some scary dialogue (in French) seemingly from a Chernobyl documentary, and then some bizarre but good boogie-woogie piano, in From Tchernobyl With Love. They mix up spy surf with cheesy dancefloor electronics in Packshot, then shift to a moody minor-key reggae/trip-hop mashup with Saisis La Corde. Le Blues de Francoise drifts along on a swooshy organ grove, a tale about a girl with problems.

With a grand total of twenty tracks, the album thins out as it goes along. The good stuff includes some more baroque spacerock and then a hypnotically murky dub version, some ominous trip-hop and a stab at Orbison noir through the warped, synthesized prism of new wave. On the downside, there’s one song that nicks the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, another that’s an overlong attempt to remake New Order’s Temptation, along with ripoffs of Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Berlin’s The Metro, a Missing Persons soundalike, some halfhearted Chuck Berry gone hi-tech plus a considerably more techy, purposeless remake of one of the songs on their previous release, Le Podium. Still, when this band is on their game, the ambience they create is as genuinely as it is offhandedly sinister.