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Import Zone | column | Lollipop

Import Zone

by Michael McCarthy

About two years ago, an interesting mix of pop, r&b and jungle often dubbed garage (or 2 step or 2 step garage) began dominating the charts in England. And just as the talented Craig David, arguably the posterboy for this movement, begins to make a name for himself Stateside, N'Sync is adapting the style, no doubt giving some the impression that it's nothing but cheese when it's usually a lot more artful, à la Artful Dodger (known as Artful Dodger UK here, no doubt for legal reasons of some sort). But I'm not here to defend Craig David, who's sure to sell millions of CDs anyway, but the genre itself. If long instrumental jungle tracks are too frenzied for you, triggering an anxiety attack instead of inspiring you to dance, you can appreciate the delirium of their beats in the context of a verse/chorus/verse song. If the beats of mainstream pop songs strike you as all too generic, now you've got what are still ultimately pop songs surrounded by beats you used to have to buy a Roni Size or Goldie disc to dig on (and if you're a purist and don't like the combo, uh, no problem, the staples of the pop and jungle genres are still there for you. Well, at least until all the cashcow pop acts realize this is the thing to do and switch to the garage sound. But at least you don't have to worry about Goldie producing a Jessica Simpson CD).

My personal favorite garage CD is by an Italian gal named Carlotta. Maybe it's partially because this is the first garage CD I've heard in a foreign language, but I suspect I'd still be listening to it quite a bit even if it were in English. Just when the beats start to get a bit hypnotic - or dare I say predictable - you'd swear you're listening to a record that just skipped and then there's a catchy but certainly not overproduced chorus. Part of the reason to like the genre may be because it's combining things that aren't supposed to go together, so adding the foreign language factor makes it all the more bewitching.

Speaking of new genres, I have to use the term folktronica (you know, the word usually used to describe Dido's sound) to summarize La biographie de Luka Philipsen by Keren Ann. Some of the songs are very simple, like "Dimanche En Hiver" (Sunday In Winter) and "Deux," while "Seule" and "On Est Loin" (One Is Far) are very, very textured. Often, her vocals are almost whispered, but never in a sultry, come-here-and-fuck-me-baby style. Sometimes warming, sometimes creepy, always moving.

If Keren Ann is the French-language version of Dido, Canada's Gabrielle Destroismaisons is the French-language version of, well, Britney Spears. Definitely not the sort of thing you're inclined to buy for its artistic merit, but if you're looking to score some good dance music by a pretty gal, you could do a lot worse. The track "Et Cetera" from her ETC... disc is a bit of a naughty delight with lyrics like "toi et moi et cetera." A guilty pleasure, to be sure, but what's a CD collection with out them?

Anything but a guilty pleasure, Asile's World, the new disc from Italy's Elisa, is mostly in English and it would be a crime if it isn't released in the States because it's a true electronic pop masterpiece. Sounding like a cross between Alanis and Björk, Elisa sings lyrics like "I am bleeding joy" in "Gift" and "stop / calling me with a name" in "Come and Sit" with a mix of unrestrained passion and bitter sarcasm. Listening, you can't help but suspect she's manic depressive because her vocals are always to the extreme, whether happy or sad. If you've recently become a fan of Amanda Ghost, you're sure to love her.

To coincide with the recent re-release of the late Serge Gainsbourg's catalog, Mercury France gave 14 of his best tracks to top electronica gurus to recreate and the result is I Love Serge. If you had to describe his music with one or two words and weren't allowed to call it "French pop," you might call it lounge music, and the wonderful thing about this collection is that the lounge music flavor is as present as Serge's vocals in most of the tracks. While most would be better served on a Back To Mine chill-out collection than on the floor of your local discotheque, that's not to call them background music. Krikor & W.A.R.R.I.O.'s mix of "Love on the Beat," for example, demands your full attention when a woman starts moaning - or is she shouting? - almost violently, while it sounds like an ape is having a fit in Faze Action's mix of "Là-bas c'est naturel." The always-scruffy, always-smoking Serge was never so mischievous.

Finally, I have to tell you about a disc I was reminded of while listening to I Love Serge and that is Neneh Chérie Remixes, a seven-track French release from 1997. As you may know, Neneh Cherry is a lot more popular in Europe than she ever was in the States, and this disc of "100% French Mixes" is some of the most seductive chill-out music you'll ever come across. Air's mix of "Kootchi" is probably the best thing they've ever done, and Christophe Monier's mix of "Beastiality" is superb as well. It might be difficult to track down, but it's well worth the effort.

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