Ideal Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Alicia St. Rose
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/15/2000
So what do Ren and Stimpy, the Ronettes and the X-Files theme song have in common? Well, at one point or another April March, aka, Elinor Blake, lent her talents to those ventures as a song writer and vocalist. She also fronted a band called the Pussywillows. Her latest endeavor is an album influenced by the French pop music sound of the early sixties. This music, known as Yé Yé, has a schmaltzy lounge sound that has you conjuring up visions of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn traipsing through Paris in springtime.
My first listen to Chrominance Decoder was a bit of a shock. This music was steeped in a tradition I'd not been exposed to and I wasn't sure how to respond to it. To my untrained ears, the opening song, "Garden Of April", sounded like a childs nursery rhyme without the benefit of lyrics. Or maybe this was a soundtrack for a trip through La La Land. I gave the disc an obligatory listen, then put it aside in order to purify my cd player with something less "out there".
I find that like all good reds, an album needs time to breath in order to be really enjoyed. What may be bitter to swallow at first mellows out and becomes quite palatable in time. And how does an album breathe? Simply by planting a few stains in your head and allowing your brain to do the rest.
And so it was with Chrominance Decoder. I could not put melodies like "Garçon Glaçon/Nothing New" out of my head. Nor could I dislodge the eerie lyrics to "Sugar". I even found myself warbling the nonsense syllables to that ear candy "Garden Of April". I gave the disc another spin in order to savor it without my initial prejudice. I was rewarded with the clever nuances in Bertrand Burgalat's sparse yet expansive production and the juxtaposition of March's sometimes sinister and pessimistic lyrics with his happy Yé Yé sound.
March's voice seems to have been transplanted from another world in the lovely "Mickey Et Chantal" and the dreamy "Maritine". Her voice floats down on you like eider down. Then there's the jazzy "Charlatan" where her smooth breathy performance reminds me of very contented purring cat. Even in bitingly, sarcastic songs like "Ideal Standard" and "No Parachute," her vocals float through the arrangements like clouds.
March's vocal innocence and Burgalat's sharp nouveau Yé Yé production are excellent contrasts for lyrical content which is cynical, eerie and sometimes quite disturbing. In the cut ,"Sugar", March sings about being lured into the forest by a man whose "nails were not clean" and his "eyes were like cherries and [his] skin was like clay/ [his] hair was like jelly and it gleamed". With a chorus like "You took my sugar and left me tears", we're left to wonder what depraved incident occurred with this ogre amidst the trees.
"No Parachute" almost sounds like a taunt with these lyrics "She's got you in a harness/But not the practical kind/....She's gonna drop you/It'll be cute/No parachute". There is also a French version of this song on the album and it is one of eight songs sung in the language. March is an American but writes songs in both French and English. This distresses me only because my French is minimal at best and I'm dying to know what she's singing about! And shame on the powers that be for not including the lyrics in the inserts.
The Dust Brothers supply two remixes to the album, placing a layer of modern grooves over the retro sound of "Sugar" and "Nothing New".
This disc takes a little getting used to if you're submerged in today's alterna-rap culture. There was once a time in popular music when innocence was a commodity, when leisure and romance were the ideals. The period was brief. March and Bergalat have offered us a glimpse with Chrominance Decoder. So mix yourself a mint julep, throw this disc on and settle down comfortably in your chaise lounge. You'll be taken to a bygone era with a tether still connected to the present....Bon Voyage!