I got so many good responses to my short post on Coralie Clement recently that I thought I would start a series highlighting some of my favorite modern French acts. These will just be short posts with some thoughts on various albums and tracks with some photos and hopefully some YouTube clips thrown in for good measure. This decade has proven the most exciting period in French music since the late sixties and early seventies, with each new release by an increasing number of artists being among the most anticipated albums around.
At just thirty five years of age French singer, composer, arranger and record producer Benjamin Biolay has become one of the most controversial figures in popular music. For some he is nothing more than a Serge Gainsbourg wanna be recycling old themes and passing them off as his own, for others though (like myself) he is the brightest light in modern French music and a searing reminder of the hope and power of popular music.
Biolay began his solo career with the incredible ROSE KENNEDY album in 2001. This moody and often haunting record recalls some of the best work that came out of France in the late sixties and early seventies such as Francoise Hardy's LE QUESTION album. Biolay's whispered vocals, combined with some of the freshest sounding arrangements since Jean-Claude Vannier marked ROSE KENNEDY as easily one of the best debut albums of the decade.
Even better was the follow up album, NEGATIF released in 2003. NEGATIF is a massive double set album that finds Biolay in a much more experimental mode than ROSE KENNEDY. Here we find him incorporating more samples, ranging from Brian Eno to The Carter Family, and embracing a much more looser feel than his first album possessed. I also love the striking cover photograph that has an almost 'glam' feeling to it.
2005's L'ORIGINE would find Biolay continuing to branch out into even further terrains of a seemingly endless array of different styles and influences. The key to all of his work is his intelligence though and his sharp production skills. This guy knows how to work a studio and his solo albums are some of the best sounding and most alive of this not so young decade.
Biolay is also, of course, a producer for other acts and the crop of talent that he has in his circle is phenomenal. Chief among these are his sister (Coralie Clement), his wife (Chiara Mastroianni) and friends Keren-Ann and Elodie Frege. Highlights of these collaborations include both of Coralie's albums, the incredible duets album HOME with Chiara and Keren Ann's LA DISPARITION.
Biolay has also had his hand in producing, writing and arranging for some of his biggest influences such as Francoise Hardy, and Henri Salvador among others. Everything about Biolay seems to simultaneously recall a time long past and an exciting future yet to come.
Biolay is planning his new album for later this year and it will no doubt thrill his fans and upset the people who don't admire him even further. Whether you like his music or not, it is hard to deny that Biolay is awesomely talented and has done much to bring French music to the world market in the past few years. For me, he is one of the most essential artists on the planet, a resurrection of a cool long since thought buried.