Cash & Carry Songs
It’s extraordinary in this day and age how simple making music can be. Now more than ever, almost anyone can make a pop record in their bedroom by programming a computer and playing some simple chords. But making a great pop record, that’s the tough bit.
Like it or not, the laptop pop era is here to stay and none of us can do anything to stop it. However, we must remain cautious, because with this musical revolution comes a wave of mundane pop dreck and uninteresting crap. Fortunately for us all, the French duo Octet (Francis Goujon & Benjamin Morando) has taken a different approach. They have taken the spontaneity and simplicity of laptop-based poptronica and sprinkled it with other styles, including tango, ’60s pop, lounge and downtempo. The result is a cohesive debut album, Cash & Carry Songs.
Quite early on, it becomes apparent that Goujon and Mornado have a good ear for pop music and understand how to work a good hook without relying on a lot of flash. Their twisted grasp of structure and harmony has manifested into an experimental record of catchiness and cohesion.
The album begins perfectly with the bouncy “Hey Bonus.” It takes a skittish Beatles-like melody and spruces it up, creating a cut-and-paste gem that goes down smoothly. “Hey Bonus” really is a pop music masterpiece. It’s got a hook, it’s snazzy and, best of all, it remains with you after you hear it — in that annoying way that only great songs can.
“4/4 Waltz” is much more blippy sounding. It has some Beatles-esque atmospherics in the background of a thumping and deliberate tango percussive track. Indeed, “4/4 Waltz” is the wonderful sound of symmetric musical automation. Vocal snippets are added to the near perfect instrumentation, transforming a track that begins shiny and metallic into something warm and mellow. Octet then calms things down with the beautiful “Daddy Long Legs,” placing serene chimes and gentle strings at the forefront of a winding eddy of ambient sound. This textured techno ditty ticks, tocks, clings and clangs itself into a sweltering cascade of gorgeous tetragonic resonance.
“Sneakers & Thong” is a thumpier, groovier track featuring vocals from M83 chanteuse Suzanne Thoma and French house bigwig Benjamin Diamond. Diamond, along with Mirwais, Cosmo Vitelli and Daft Punk, has helped put France on the dance floor map. This is by far the grooviest track on the album. Thoma returns for the melancholy “Blind Repetition.” Her voice adds a lot of depth to the track. Imagine Bjork singing inside a wind-up music box, and you get the gist of what this sounds like.
The last portion of Cash & Carry Songs has Octet operating within a sparser musical landscape. “Kino Cat Leng” features a nice melody of winding clock sounds and harpsichord minimalism that intertwines with a layered, spaced-out futuristic expanse. “Trackball of Fire” features a barrage of blips, breaks and sonic twinges that never become staid or mundane. “Honky Thonk (Outro)” serves as the perfect epilogue for the record. It’s a filmic and disturbing track that expands, contracts and shifts itself as it sprawls out of control into a cold stop.
Maybe it’s a French thing, but Octet has oftentimes been lumped into the same sentence as Air when describing their music. This is not an altogether fair summation, because although both bands dabble in rich atmospherics and lush density, Octet’s music is more textured and experimental while Air’s is more chic and refined.
As evidenced throughout Cash & Carry Songs, Octet’s raw reshapings are a much more inventive, quirky and catchier form of pop music. In fact, this disc may be the most accessible experimental album to come around in quite some time. Octet has managed to balance the perfect dosages of shindig pop with experimental dissonance while fostering captivating songs that are both intricate and delicate without dissipating into clatter.