Domenique Dumont breezes, Francis the Great reissued and joyous
From the Latvian city of Riga, musician Domenique Dumont offers a fresh and effervescent take on electronica that manages to sound modern without using gimmicks that will sound dated in a few years or the wholesale appropriation of nostalgic sources.
The six-song mini-album Comme Ça, released on the Paris label Antinote, is full of bubbly and crisp synthetics with a judicious use of samples, being simultaneously stimulating and interesting while having a breezy lightness, perhaps reminiscent in some ways of the German synth-pop group Lali Puna.
Vocalist Mona Lesko is featured on the first two tracks—the title track and “L’Esprit de L’Escalier” (“The Spirit of the Staircase”)—and she has a cool yet perky singing style. On “L’Esprit de l’Escalier” she gently taps out staccato notes perfectly mirrored by bass and treble instrument counterparts.
“La Basse et les Shakers” features a rhythm loop that sounds like it came from a homemade Raymond Scott drum machine circa 1960, and “Un Jour Avec Yusef” has a similarly primitive beatbox sound (think Young Marble Giants) beneath its dreamy proceedings, with artificial malleted percussion, digital drips and reverberating electric guitar melodies.
There is no drop in quality on the mini-album, with the final two numbers being just as charming and enchanting as the rest. “La Bataille de Neige” spotlights a chimpy carnival organ amid vinyl surface noise, with a tug of reggae and choice notes drenched in dub-influenced echo, and the watery “Le Château de Corail” has an island vibe with a touch of exotica, with turntable static crackles passing for a campfire on a sandy beach.
Evocative, subtle and nuanced, with a careful sophistication and underlying calm, Comme Ça is one of this writer’s favorite electronic releases of recent memory and leaves him anticipating much more from Dumont.
Francis the Great
In the quest to create “The Most Unwanted Song” in 1997, artists Komar & Melamid with composer Dave Soldier discovered that listeners generally abhorred bagpipes, lyrics about cowboys, holidays and advertising and children singing.
Of course, there are exceptions when it comes to the “children singing” part—for example, the Jackson 5—and we can also add Francis the Great to the exception list. The release at hand is a reissue of the rare 1977 album Ravissante Baby from the 7-year-old Cameroonian singer Francis the Great, a.k.a. Francis Mbarga, which was recorded in Paris, with Mbarga’s parents responsible for assembling the African musicians.
The title song—the first of the album’s two side-length tracks—grabs the listener immediately, with Mbarga engaging in a call-and-response exchange with backing singers; the salient aspect of his vocals is the unbridled enthusiasm, and he interjects his lyrics with assorted sounds: grrrs, cheers, whoops and hollers.
The song has an irresistible current of upbeat soukous, marked with clean, flowing electric guitar lead melodies and entrancing, busy rhythms. It maintains the same groove for the whole duration, and in the middle, right before the listener thinks that the track is stagnating, some synth popcorn notes enter to stoke the fire and shake things up slightly.
Small variations and additions pepper the song, making its 12-minute length fly by as an easygoing joy.
The second track, “Look up in the Sky,” has Mbarga using a speak/sing style to describe quite literally what he sees when he looks up; this track takes a different approach, with an Afrofunk/Fela Kuti vibe, a disco backbone, analog synth keyboard flourishes and brass outbursts.
Far from being a mere novelty, Ravissante Baby is a remarkable, absolutely jubilant obscurity, and Mbarga’s parents are contenders for “Best Parents Ever,” for giving him the opportunity to channel his wide-eyed wonderment atop some badass Afrofunk and soukous music.