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Charlotte Gainsbourg put forth 5:55 with some help from her French compatriots (electroduo Air) and her U.K. ones to boot (Nigel Godrich at the board, Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannnon on lyrics). She brought forth wispy tendrils of careful pop, breathy singing about insomnia, crashing planes, hellacious repetition (as topic, not methodology), misunderstood children, and surgery. A convenient package of malaise for, from, and encapsulating our uncertain times. I only wish more people took it to heart.

Three years later she's back with Beck and some of the same sonic adornments — strings, bike-bell tinkling — but an even darker ambiance requiring even darker hacking. The lyrics are all handwritten (and I for one can't read cursive well) with some of that cursive in French, which she's more comfortable singing in, now, even if Beck wrote the French.

Beck wrote all the songs except one here. I still wonder how the singer can sound so personal with songs and settings cooked up in large part by her supporting cast. Like Billie Holiday, she puts a few drops of personality — the whisper, the sigh — on every syllable and squeezes their moisture for amazing mileage.

And Beck? Outstanding, like his singer, in the field of absolutely correct distance from his material, which in this case sounds a lot like, of all things, Western movie soundtracks. Existential Western movie soundtracks, full of melancholy odd "desert" noises, swing beats, sea-bottom bass burping, stuff about assassins and solitary riders on trick ponies. By the time you wonder whether "La Collectionneuse" refers obliquely to John Fowles's infamous kidnapping novel or less obliquely to obsessive hoarding as defense against death anxiety, you figure out that these movies only exist in the two minds that made this. But then it's time to listen again.

  • Album: IRM (2010)
  • Artist: Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • Label: Elektra
  • Songs: (1) Master's Hands (2) IRM (3) Le Chat du Café des Artistes (4) In the End (5) Heaven Can Wait (6) Me And Jane Doe (7) Vanities (8) Time Of The Assassins (9) Trick Pony (10) Greenwich Mean Time (11) Dandelion (12) Voyage (13) La Collectionneuse
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Mary Leary July 5, 2010 @ 11:46 a.m.

Charlotte is always newsworthy - thanks for the report.


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