More than anything else, French singer Marianne Dissard’s new greatest-hits collection, Cibola Gold – streaming at Bandcamp – is all about solace. Betrayal, disappointment and fullscale heartbreak are frequent themes, and for anyone who’s suffered any of that (hasn’t everyone?), Dissard feels your pain. It’s a potently plaintive playlist for cold nights at 3 AM when there’s only a single glass left in the magnum and the ghosts on the perimeter are closing in.
It opens with a funny song and closes with a harrowing one. In between, it documents the career of one of the world’s most consistently compelling songwriters since 2008. She started out looking back toward new wave, then went deep into desert rock. Since then, Dissard has been just as eclectic, ranging from the towering, angst-driven art-rock of her 2014 masterpiece The Cat. Not Me, to the stripped-down noir of last year’s live-in-the-studio release, Cologne-Vier Takes. Beyond the thirteen newly remastered tracks, the album comes with a lavish, full-color booklet documenting Dissard’s well-documented travels, from her native country to the Arizona desert – where she famously collaborated with Giant Sand and Sergio Mendoza – and eventually full circle.
Like Balkan singer Eva Salina, recently covered here, Dissard’s vocals transcend the limits of language. While her lyrics, mostly in French, are full of double entendres and clever wordplay, her powers of expression are such that anyone can get the gist if not the complete picture of where she’s coming from, emotionally speaking. For example, her coyly deadpan delivery on the scampering Django jazz-flavored Les Draps Sourds. In French, “sourd” means “deaf,” but it also means “hammered,” as in having had too much bordeaux. So the tale of the two lovers beneath the sheets, interrupted, takes on new dimensions, whether or not you speak French.
The One and Only, with its insistent, echoey Rhodes piano and purist blend of soul and blues, sends a joyously breathy shout-out to Dissard’s old Tucson stomping ground. She takes an animatedly anguished approach to the ache and abandonment of Election over an insistently pulsing piano-pop arrangement. Cayenne refers not to the quasi-narcotic qualities of capsicum but to its lingering burn, and all that it represents, Dissard’s mutedly wounded contralto mingling with a gently pointillistic, Chelsea Girl-style acoustic backdrop. The metaphorically-loaded images of the swaying folk-rock of Les Confettis are much the same.
With La Tortue (The Turtle), the door opens wide and the darkness, always hinted at, pours in, with more than a hint of hip-hop in Dissard’s half-spoken nightmare imagery over waves of strings and incisive neoromantic piano. The whisperingly conspiratorial ranchera art-rock of Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) is more allusively troubled. Then Dissard offers a mysteriously seductive groove with the sunbaked Booker T psych-soul groove of Trop Expres (rough translation: Too Obvious).
Pomme (The Apple) expands on the William Tell fable, chamber-pop gospel as Roger Waters might do it, with an irresistible woodwind chart and similarly tasty piano. La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) blends new wave bounce and dancing echoes of vintage vaudevillian chanson, with one of Dissard’s trademark clever rhyme schemes. Likewise, It’s Love, a mashup of new wave and angst-tinged artsy pop: Botanica in a rare, lighter moment comes to mind.
Un Gros Chat (Fat Cat), more or less the centerpiece of The Cat. Not Me is a chilling art-rock anthem, again bringing to mind Botanica as well as Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, with a rare verse or two in English from Dissard. The album ends with the whispery, elegaic Am Letzen, a shatteringly wintry depiction of wee-hours emotional destitution on the final morning of the year. Everybody else is probably getting stoked for the evening’s festivities: Dissard’s drained, despondent narrator only leaves the apartment so she can come back to it.
This album fits with Dissard’s current retrospective mode: when she isn’t touring, she’s back in France, with a memoir in the works. From an oldschool media perspective, albums of previously released material aren’t typically included among critics’ picks of the year’s best releases, but if there’s any one that deserves to be an exception, this is it. Pour that last glass, stare down the demons and let Dissard’s wise, knowing murmur pull you off the ledge.