Few bands have invigorated French pop like La Femme over the last decade, and in 2021, they’re coming to make all of our lives better. Paradigmes, the much-awaited third album from the Paris-based, Biarritz band, offers a shift in how we see the world, a kaleidoscopic vortex to a different, more vibrant dimension.
La Femme have always assimilated the sounds that surround them. Their 2013 debut album Psycho Tropical Berlin paid homage to kosmische, surf rock and cold wave; the followup – 2016’s Mystère – hybridised elements of psych disco, Egyptian iconography and intoxicating flavours of 90’s Motown hip hop. It’s music for the internet age that draws on vintage and eclectic good taste, where playful, sonic Dadaist collages are turned into something ebullient and remarkable, strewn with lyrics that are feisty, funny, philosophical and sometimes forlorn.
The two main songwriters who started the band together, Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée, are the traditional heart of La Femme, and their vision is consolidated on stage by the masterful rhythm section of Sam Lefevre and Noé Delmas (bass and drums, respectively), and sublimated by the vocal talents of female singers like Alma Jodorowsky, Clara Luciani, Clémence Quélennec, Grâce Hartzel and Jane Peynot: “There are quite a lot of jazz musicians on this album,” say Got and Magnée, “and loads of female singers – as there were on the previous records. The banjo player on ‘Disconnexion’ comes from Memphis. But as always, there are no official featured artists or guest star appearances.”
Within this album of beautifully-curated electropop you will hear everything from coldwave to yéyé, Kraftwerk to Velvet Underground, all distilled and sequenced and psychedelicized so that it sounds uniquely La Femme. The title track is a brassy blast of sizzling electro that imbues the spirit of flappers and philosophers, cabaret and art deco and Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis, all underpinned with a touch of lyrical melancholy. These retrofuturist influences are brought to the fore in the video too, and we’ve also been promised a La Femme feature film that’s currently in post-production which has been described as a cross between Monty Python and Phantom of the Paradise!
Paradigmes too is cinematic; a celluloid-like window into a playful alternative universe where travelling far and wide is still the order of the day. It’s a psychogeographic and sometimes psychotropic trawl which includes a detour to the apricot gardens of the Iberian Peninsula on the gorgeous Spanish language ballad ‘Le Jardin’. ‘Foreigner’ meanwhile is a synthpop banger recited in English.
Speaking of which, America is an important part of Paradigmes, and its rugged landmass looms large. At the album’s heart is a triptych of songs with titular US place names, some conjured from experience, and others dredged up from the imagination. ‘Cool Colorado’ melts the senses majestically as it recounts a glorious smoke in the Rockies; ‘Pasadena’ is a moody rap song set at school, and ‘Nouvelle Orléans’ swirls with swooping backwards electric guitars and forward-looking electro arpeggios, peripatetic bass and breakbeats.
Furthermore ‘Le sang de mon prochain’ is a vampire love song that’s related to the myth of the succubus, and instrumental ‘Lâcher de chevaux’ evokes spaghetti westerns seen through the eyes of Italian geniuses like Enio Morricone and Giorgio Moroder, lassoing Americana and giving it a distinctly European feel. And let’s not forget ‘Foutre le bordel’, a song that perhaps remains best untranslated, a kickass motorik punk party anthem that also could have been produced by Moroder and performed by the specter that possessed Plastic Bertrand.