Listening to Grand Dérèglement, the muscular, furious and politically significant introduction to Frànçois and The Atlas Mountains' new album ‘Solide Mirage’ for the first time, fans of the band’s previous work may be in for a bit of a surprise. Those who had embraced the poetic vision of the previous albums, Plaine Inondable (2009), E Volo Love (2011), and Piano Ombre (2014) will discover in Solide Mirage an album of strength, beauty, uncomplicated ups and downs, a direct and more essential album. A deep-rooted work that certainly still sometimes tickles the clouds (1982 or Perpétuel Eté, of which the stratospheric strings were arranged with the prodigious Canadian, Owen Pallett), and does not turn its back on the pure beauty of crystal clear words. But an album much more in direct contact with reality and its chaotic convolutions than its predecessors: a more visceral, more instinctive record, with crystal clear words and clear intentions, that say more than they suggest.
Since Piano Ombre, a lot of water has flowed into Frànçois’ life, under the bridges which the boy never stops building. Bridges with soul mates, meetings, collaborations. With the exceptionally gifted French electronic producer Rone, or with his teacher, Etienne Daho. With the Belgian David Nzeyimana (Le Colisée), new summit of the Atlas, joining the band with Jean “Jaune” Thévenin and Amaury “Archipel” Ranger, following the departure of Pierre Loustaunau and Gerard Black, now concentrating on their other projects, Petit Fantôme and Babe. Also bridges towards new horizons also. Some musical, with the “African EP” L’Homme Tranquille in 2015, recorded after dates on the continent, or the original music and collaboration with dancer and choreographer I-Fang Li on En Chinoiseries at the Pompidou Art Center in Paris. Also one new personal horizon: Brussels, where David Nzeyimana and Amaury Ranger were already living and where Frànçois eventually settled his life and transformed his vision. “I wanted to escape a bit from the pastoral environment and from the contemplation that had rocked my previous albums to plunge me into a stiffer, harder, dirtier, split city. Find the urban, the concrete, the chaos. In a night city. Brussels takes all its sense when the night filter settles. The night, its lights, its sparklings and the music which accompany them: the electronic music here is important, it is a very digital city. A treasure trove, which moves in all directions, full of fantastic places: it often gets compa
red to a modern Berlin.”
Finally, Frànçois has recently rediscovered an old bridge, an instinct towards his adolescent passions for the wonder of grunge, its fierce electricity and its immediacy. This “energy lost on the way”, in his own words, resurfaced on two occasions. During a collaboration with Hedi Slimane, who allowed him to immerse himself in the punk and grunge scene of L.A., with bands like Wand and Sun Flower Bean in particular, and to revive his passion for this electricity. But also and especially, whilst endlessly touring, during some dates in the Middle East, in front of a youth, a still feverish after its Arab Spring. “We played in Istanbul, in Lebanon, in Alexandria as well as in Cairo in 2015”, explains Frànçois. “We discovered a youth eager for music, in particular the Egyptian youth, which had made the revolution two years earlier. We thought a little bit naively that all our slightly African grooves, the exotic, oriental bits in our music were going to be our footbridge towards this public. The shock was that the tracks which worked best were the rock ones, the most direct ones, like ‘Tour de France’. That sent me back to my youth, to the honesty which I could have when I was 14 years old, when the intention was more important than the shape. There is something punk, direct, immediate, solid and rough in this approach.”
As a man and as an artist, it felt necessary to have the spite of grunge, this healthy anger, to survive the horrors of 2015 - the big chaos of the world, in this “Grand Dérèglement” referred to in the introduction of Solide Mirage. Attacks, wars, the migrant crisis, generalized fear, populisms, the pre-apocalyptic atmosphere: a dark year for all and a profound questioning for Frànçois Marry. “We asked ourselves quite a lot of questions. It is delicate to speak about politics in songs, but it is inevitable when you write in moments like these. I have an attraction to abstract poetry but I realized that it had become a head-in-the-sand technique. I do not understand why musicians do not ask themselves more questions about the responsibility of their words. French pop music tends to try to give a poetic form to the words that transform into simplification. Many leave in a neo-poetic lyrical psychedelism which I felt, for my part, I had used too much, in particular in Plaine Inondable or E Volo Love. And considering the realities of life in the year 2015, I had to think about what we wanted to say. Whether we play in front of 5.000, 500, 50 or 5 people, do we want to escape from the real world and create a musical frenzy or do we want to cry out that there are things which concern us all, of which we have to all be conscious? Both can go hand in hand: it is an example of this idea of association between the solid and the mirage.”
“Solide Mirage”: an absolute oxymoron. “A concealed resentment, mixed with the instinct of survival, and with the joy of playing music eternally”, wrote Frànçois in a small text accompanying the album. “The positive and humanist initiatives are often minorities, and are not the priority of our world”, he continues. “Solide Mirage is an instinct for survival, against resentment, anger, renunciation. It is a need to seek the grounds where one can freely play.” This full power, this feeling of coming back to life, this new strength given to the words, Solide Mirage developed them in the crossroads between two worlds apparently so opposed - the Solid and the Mirage. The album is certainly led by desires for raw electricity, for energetic revolt, for destruction of the established disorder. But it is fed, at the same time, by the desire to build new worlds, new universes in atoms, bricks and digital foundations. Plunged into the energy of nocturnal Brussels which he embraced, supported by David “Le Colisée” Nzeyimana (“he uses his computer and music softwares the same way I use an acoustic guitar”), Frànçois also found his inspiration in producers such as Hiele, Alex9696 or Samuel Spaniel. “For me, grunge energy is bound to a sensation of frustration and anger in front of the world, that others might translate into more of a groove. We tried to find a balance between rock music, a rather destructive energy and some more bright, positive things. We concentrated on what we knew how to do, we all had to find some benefit there, a common ground.”
Solide Mirage. Like an imperceptible dream, a fantasy where reality shifts as one approaches it. A perfect definition for this protean, changeable and direct album which, nevertheless, reveals new facets, new territories in every listening. Sometimes soft (on 1982, Apocalypse à Ipsos, Pepétuel été, 100.000.000), sometimes tough (Bête Morcelée and its rush of pure grunge, Grand Dérèglement, the roughness and splinters of Jamais Deux Pareils), sometimes crazy (the digitized trance of Apres Après), and always highly political, whether direct or reading between the lines.
Solide Mirage was recorded in Jet Studios in Brussels, owned by Adamo. Produced by Ash Workman, who also worked on Piano Ombre and whose genius for production can also be witnessed on his work with Metronomy or Christine & The Queens. “I really wanted zero affectation, to avoid any latest fad, any illumination. I wanted to cut back to the intention and the desire, to concentrate on speech, on simple, uncluttered musical proposals. I got back to sincerity. I learnt not to be afraid of simplicity and obvious fact. One can gain a lot by getting to the point.” From now on, the main point for Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains, is not to escape anymore. The main point is a question of survival, from now it is to act. “It is necessary to stand out, to impose our values. If we do not, others with less humanist values will”, concludes Frànçois. The passion, formidable efficiency, strong words and universal beauty of Solide Mirage is to get straight to the point.
Thursday 17th August 2017
Price: £12 advance (+stbf)