François & the Atlas Mountains - Piano Ombre
The final LP in François Marry's 'trilogy' contains yet more bilingual, elegantly tailored synth pop
François Marry, one-time touring member of Camera Obscura, and Fence Records recording artiste, has ceased his perambulations around the UK and returned to his native France to record the final part of what he sees as a trilogy of albums. With Piano Ombre, he may well have left the best to last.
Like their fellow countrymen Phoenix, François & the Atlas Mountains have waged a stealth campaign on our ears, never appearing to try too hard to seduce with their elegantly tailored synth pop. But unlike Phoenix, they write bilingually, so there is an element of je ne sais quoi about these songs, literally as much as figuratively. For example, non-French speakers can only presume that ‘La Fille Aux Cheveux De Soie’ (‘the girl with silky hair’) is a yearning love song. The sighing strings, airy piano refrain and the soft touch of Marry’s vocals would suggest so, but a little mystery doesn’t hurt.
The truth of dinky single ‘La Verité’ is that it is an irresistibly light, trim and catchy earworm. It’s an obvious airplay standout on an album with a more subtle charm offensive. ‘Bois’ begins as a bare chanson, delivered with precision and clarity, before fanning out into a mood piece with distinct Afro-jazz leanings.
The influence of Afro pop on indie bands has proved durably vogueish in recent years but, appropriately for a band named after a North African mountain range, feels like an integral part of ‘The Way To The Forest’ rather than a trendy way to sound exotic.
The likes of ‘Summer of the Heart’ may be a cute synth line too far for some but, courtesy of their Glaswegian keyboard player Gerard Black (known round these parts as the angelic lead singer of Findo Gask), is executed with quietly persuasive style. That’s true of the whole album. I don’t know what it means, but I like it.