The French Quarter - We‘re not French
Bill Cummings 29/09/2008
There must be something in the water in Scotland, or maybe the lack of sunlight through those endlessly bitter winters? How else can you explain the multitude of great independent artists to emerge from the fair isles in the last 15 years? Each one possessing that precious ability to express their particular brand of melancholia, from Mogwai, to Arab Strap, The Delgados, Idlewild, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and on. Maybe it's the sense of small town helplessness that forces some to seek sanctuary in musical creativity, to open themselves up to new worlds. Or maybe the Celtic tradition of song is so deeply rooted in its people that it seeps out whether they like it or not. Whatever the reason we seem to have another promising act from north of the border, Tillicoultry's The French Quarter are another outfit from deepest darkest Scotland, their debut EP is produced by Andy Miller of Mogwai and The Delgados related fame. And yes, before you even think it, there are obvious shades of the 'Gwai's trademark early slow, quiet, loud, loud, quiet post-rock surrounding these shadowy back allies of sound.
Opening instrumental Blue Lights gently opens proceedings,unravelling blinking, twinkling lights, through the process of gently probing drums. There may be no vocals here, but unlike much of Mogwai's output there's a sense of hope shooting through the darkness of these compositions, a light at the end of the tunnel if you will (excuse the pun) . It's the (French Quarter) is even more impressive, building from humble beginnings of whispered self affirming refrains(We're the French quarter), into a monster of caterwauling fizzing guitars, throbbing bass at its zenith. Crucially The French quarter aren't limited by any supposed post-rock Pigeonholes. The third track perfectly exhibits their potential, almost new wave its insistent basslines pulse determinedly, drums click into action, Scottish vocals are more strident, clear, and augmented by tasty guitar picks, pianos, and a sense of dynamics that hunt down the work of Interpol like wild prey.
Uni is gorgeous, building from desolate keyboards and poignant xylophone note touches, it's a sleight of hand that only lasts one minute and thirty seconds. Then it's straight into Hide that initially bares the hallmarks of an Idlewild track, but these vocals are more softly unassuming, draped in waves of shimmering guitar, capturing an emotional moment in time: The cost of today is greater than the cost of yesterday; the cost referring to a lover leaving his life, perhaps? One can only summarise, what I do know is that Hide is a track of great skill, it reminds me of the recent emotionally complex work of The National, the point where music and vocals collide into one supple mix. This isn't all perfect though, the slow burning t 2 is well conceived, but it doesn't quite reach the heights of the previous tracks.
This EP has a really well rounded feeling, a warm sound that seems to come from the almost live organic feel of these recordings, the sheen is limited and the songs and instruments are given space to breath.
Some may criticise the vocals for not being commercial sounding, or the choruses for not grabbing you around the throat and shouting: 'LISTEN TO ME!' every time, which I guess is a point. But for me the crux of the French Quarter's strength is that they possess a subtlety, a deftness of touch, a mixture of the ambitiousness of post rock arrangements allied to a melodic craft, not often seen in today's transient music scene that demands quick easy tunes and fast, with a side order of easily digestible melodies. The French Quarter's vocals and instruments are on the same level, a cleverness that could one day unpick your heart, and above all they have a vast potential to do more special things in future years.
Release date: 15/09/08