It is not without some degree of cliché(!) that we generally come to find French musical excellence. Daft Punk, Air, MC Solaar etc etc; they're all blessed with effortless cool, a French chic that goes hand in hand with their blend of music a la Francaise. Even though (relatively speaking) the world is now a much smaller place there is still a certain je nes se quois, an exotic and cosmopolitan thread that runs through certain music that makes it all the more irresistible. Camille (Dalmais) is just such an artist, producing just such music.
Oui is Camille's 5th solo studio album so you may have heard her before, even if it were unbeknownst to you. Camille has sung on various soundtracks including Ratatouille and The Little Prince and her music has been used in various commercials. (She also contributed to the excellent, Bossa Nova themed, Nouvelle Vague album of 2004).
It amazes me, given that I'm a sucker for a great lyric, how easily some music manages to cut through and transcend the need to actually understand it all. (My French is not good) Just as with singers like Rokia Traore, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingo, the more obvious comparison of Edith Piaf or even Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins the music is a whole experience not taken as parts but experienced in its entirety. Songs like Camille's, 'Fille a Papa' for example, don't lose anything in translation, they could possibly benefit from the lack of it.
The whole album is constructed around the most stripped back of concepts. It's all about percussion and rhythm with the multi-layered vocals sat above each arrangement in varying forms. (It's like a softer, more angelic and occasionally choral spin on what Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie did with The Creatures back in the early '80's but with a French twist) 'Sous Le Sable' starts with a simple beat and is accompanied by a gently sung or softly spoken vocal that builds layer upon layer as it adds more vocal backing. It swirls with a static buzz but never loses its simple but effective core. The vocals are all so cleverly arranged, as if the producer has added in five or six other instruments onto each song and enhanced the composition 'naturally' or 'organically'.
'Nuit Debout' uses more angelic choral phrasing before turning darker and 'Lasso' mesmerises through its clapped beat and interwoven near spoken in tongues voices and vocal treatment. Elsewhere, 'Je Mene Les Loups', adds in didgeridoo and synth accents to a song whose tone and intent get ever more purposeful as it nears its end whilst, 'Je Ne Mache Pas Mes Mots', is a song sung in French that is straight out of the, 'How to write and sing a French song', text book. It is quintessentially French and could be nothing else.
The only song sung entirely in English on the album, 'Seeds', loses none of Camille's charm, charisma or chic. Scored throughout by a more military beat Camille comes close to sounding like the vocal of A Fine Frenzy (Alison Sudol) as she captivates the listener through an alluring and beguiling performance.
'Oui' is an album full of exquisite charm that should be explored. Its layering and arrangements are wonderful and the combination of the simple beats and rhythms that underscore the quite beautiful vocals are compelling. Just as shows with sub-titles are not everyone's cup of tea neither to are songs sung in a foreign language, however, here the effectiveness of the songs somehow negates any need to know what tongue they're being sung in.
Listen to Seeds:
Official Site -