Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore
If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.
The opening track, Christine sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.
Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.
The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the Thorns‘ Battery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.
Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.