Early February, FAUVE ≠ sold out the 1,500 capacity venue Le Bataclan for a week-long stint of concerts. Vieux Frères – Partie 1 was just hitting shelves, soon to fly off and drive them up the charts. The collective bubbled in 2013 with a small burst here, small burst there. Little to no marketing surrounded their EP Blizzard compared to most music releases. However none was needed behind the stunning strength of the exceptional song “Nuits Fauves.” Accompanied by a music video, the song exposed the languid temperament of France in the face of declining economic activity and the unrelenting flow of graduates to London, Berlin, Australia, and other shores. But as opposed to becoming dispirited to modern lack of substance of all manners, a well-worn and literarily tragic path to follow, “Mais il faut pas que tu désespères, perds pas espoir, promis juré qu’on la vivra notre putain de belle histoire”/”But you must not give up, don’t lose hope. I promise, I swear that we’ll live our damned beautiful history.” Those lines contradicted what newspapers and television reporters professed. And with that and five other tracks, FAUVE ≠ rallied a loyal following that grew day by day, leading up to an album that’s tearing apart the charts and leading to sold out concerts left and right. Oh, and Phoenix themselves invited them backstage for drinks at the Rock en Seine music festival. 2013 was quite the year.
So what is FAUVE ≠ to this American looking inward or to the uninitiated? They’re in the vein of chanson, or variété, although packaging them as such would be a gross disservice due to the overwhelming stereotypes hammered and petrified into our notions of the genre. Contrary to most, the Gainsbourg-ian cool is lost here, torn to pieces and left to nostalgia itself with little care to look back fondly upon it-because it’s the past. The role of the music itself has increased consideration, sounding more akin to the relationship between beats and rhymes to hip-hop than poetry and the accompanying backtrack. (They mentioned they would listen extensively to hip-hop, notably Wu-Tang.) It accentuates and intensifies each biting confession or expression on Vieux Frères. Needless to say, it’s no afterthought. Album opener “Voyous” clocks in over six minutes long-blasphemy to the traditional déroulement or structure of an album. But as strings coil around the lyrics, the music enraptures and draws the focus to their modern tales as a good read can block out distractions in that delightful “literary tunnel vision.”
Their songs are also seeping heavily in emotion, yet not in our idea completely tainted by early 2000s acoustic kids from West Hartford, Connecticut or their kin bemoaning immature relationships. Stepping into this, even self-confessing that the collective started to let out “les séances de psy qu’on ne faisait pas”/”shrink appointments that we never did,” it led to FAUVE ≠ being criticized as an offshoot of what you’d write in MySpace blogs. (Lyrics are often written on phones.) Welcome to the great emo vs emo circa 2003-2004 debate a decade later, where the economy has fallen into broken pieces that blew into the wind of endless internships and disappearing benefits. Even according to the collective, they’re a project, an under-taking of five brains that want to propose constructive solutions. The take-away? FAUVE ≠ has something that deserves to be heard.
Voyous, featuring 18th arrondissement rapper Georgio, is the self-confessed expression of FAUVE ≠ before FAUVE ≠. A battling complex of the struggles of being a conflicted person. “I’m a dirty animal, a bottle of gas in a chimney…I tried but it’s useless. We don’t change. We never change.” It oozes with richness right into “Requin-Tigre”/”Tiger Shark.” The recorded conversation of one of their brothers, the conversation likens the individual himself to a tiger shark who must move forward, otherwise he’ll destroy anything and everything. He proclaims music and writing are his way of moving forward, yet losing it he fears would cause him to lose his ability to make progress. The guitar throughout gives a sense of oscillating urgency flowing directly into the laundry list of problems within “Jeunesse Talking Blues”/”Youth Talking Blues.” Once again, it’s not overwhelmingly negative with just a droplet of optimism when it ends with, “Hope blues.”
Though for those who may be intimidated by the language barrier, the bass heavy “De Ceux”/”Those” may be the track to chip away via Google Translate to discover what is hidden within.
“We are those who have issues getting along well with thinking.
We are those who have trouble with self-control.
We are those who are uncomfortable in public.
We are those who trip down stairs in libraries.
We are those who dance in an embarrassing way.
We are those who don’t know how to say no.
Who don’t know rebellion, who can’t support looks.”
Yet the album doesn’t wallow in the darkness. “Loterie”/”Lottery” is the progression, written last, and the opposite of where FAUVE ≠ begins. “I don’t know about you, but for me it’ll be: A head held high, fist on the table the other in the air, believe me Before ending six feet under ground, I will have lived all that there is to live and I will do all that I can do…” All this over samples that belong more so in hip-hop. It’s not slam nor chanson, but an evolution of the poetical heritage that music coming from the Hexagon has been known for. The biggest difference? FAUVE ≠ is digestible both in lyrical form and music/beats form. Proof? The numerous intermissions, the progressive guitar behind “Tunnel,” or the atmospheric “Infirmière.”
Vieux Frères – Partie 1 may overwhelm some in the sense they’ll have to copy/paste lyrics or use Chrome to translate what’s being discussed, but it shouldn’t discourage a dip here or there. It’s still more personal journal and “chanson” at the foundation, but it’s a much-needed innovation to a music genre that seems as stale and cobwebbed as Madame De Florian’s Pigalle apartment to typical English speakers. Alongside Lescop, Granville, and Pendentif, FAUVE ≠ is pushing music in France forward by leaps and bounds. Don’t let the past hold you back with this collective.
The second half of Vieux Frères will be released at the end of the year.