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Francois and The Atlas Mountains | E Volo Love

album review by John Powell

Francois and The Atlas Mountains | E Volo Love

Say that all you had to go on was this album coming out of the speakers; you don’t know the artist, the song name, or anything about them whatsoever. You would be aching for answers by the time the opener, “Les Plus Beaux”, finished. You would be curious about the unique blend of afrobeat, lightly finger picked guitar and Francois’ French/English lyricism, the cool passiveness of the energy. Truth be told, E Volo Love is spellbinding, an arch of beautiful melodies carefully constructed, peppering the new “In” of indie rock with surreal use of African rhythms and instrumentation, brushed with xylophone, hand percussion, and ghostly backing vocals. If all you had to go on was that, wouldn’t you be impressed.

To add to that, not many people have heard of Francois and the Atlas Mountains, and this stems more from the fact that the French born Francois found a niche in Europe and developed his sound among the Atlas Mountains over the course of five albums, with a band noted on the group’s Facebook page as “A bunch of friends.” Francois is so indie, it’s scary.

Maybe not for long. Let’s break it down a bit: that opener I was talking about peels in on a cloud of humming percussion and guitar like somber 80s shoegazer. Francois’ voice is absolutely perfect, a nice concotion of simple and emotional, and here he sings in French. The melody is tight, and the song builds slowly, never falling out of focus, however.

On “Muddy Hands” he takes on English, his accent strong and yet not incomprehensible. Piano propels the song forward and the drums have Arcade Fire elasticity. “I’m trying to please you,” Francois repeats over minor to major chords. “But you want everything to be clear.” The lyrics have a modern-day drone of blowing up the simple problems into the grander issues of humanity, but even with a stiff French accent Francois never comes off pretentious.

“Buried Treasures” sounds like an M. Ward cover, the guitar swimming in reverb and following a pop-centered rotation that adds to Francois’ coo. “I said goodbye/so long,” Francois says before the instruments all build in gorgeous loudness.

A key track is “City Kiss”, which hits every loveable conventionality of a hit song. The guitar and bass have pre-punk heaviness and Francois jumps from English to French. It’s the chorus that is most catchy. “City kiss/early in the morning,” and then horns help the song blossom open. If you have any love of indie rock, do not miss out on this. “Something about your eyes/is like a neon sign,” Francois adds with simple observation. “You show me around/as if I were blind.”

Another key track is “Slow Love”, sounding like golden years Belle and Sebastien, staccato synth and bass pulsing while the drums keep steady rock in place. The harmonies are striking.

Whether tweaking old school French electronica and pop (“Piscine”) or pulling heavily on afrobeat (“Edge of Town”, stellar, by the way), Francois and the Atlas Mountains don’t seem shaken by anything. Indeed, in the right hands, E Volo Love could be number one, but that’s what’s most amusing about Francois: he’s just so okay with his own world. I’d add some snarky criticism, but honestly, what’s the point? Go on and hear this album already!

Bottom line: Gorgeous instrumentation, catchy melodies, and passionate use of simplicity provides the multi-lingual Francois with bewitching powers.


 

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