Judging by their name and stylistic preference alone, I would have easily guessed that Feu Therese was one of the many up and coming French electronic acts rising to prominence this year. You know the type — I have featured them often before. From the deep electronic minimalism of Mr. Oizo to the irresistible pop sensibilities of the more accessible Dondolo and Yelle, my enthusiasm for the ceaselessly exciting French electronica scene is no secret. In regard to Feu Therese, many will initially ponder this one question: Which component of Feu Therese does not make them French? I mean, their name is in French, they sing in French, and all of their song titles are in French. What more could an amoureux de la musique FranÃ§aise want? Well, actually being from France would help. Instead, the 4 members of Feu Therese hail from Canada. With the vocal and superficial aspects of their music being an embodiment of most things French, I will take a wild guess and say that most of the members in the band come from French backgrounds. I imagine that such cultural diversity is one of the most endearing aspects of the Canadian music scene.
Due to a booming French-Canadian population, bands like Feu Therese can call themselves Canadian natives while still maintaining the ability to deliver a sound that resembles foreign virtuosity; it is this factor that allows quality acts like Feu Therese an opportunity to expand seamlessly upon both domestic and national audiences. Though Feu Therese’s bilingual flair can be primarily attributed to their own personal backgrounds, I consider it highly impressive when a band attempts to achieve success in a language that is not the domineering one within their originative country. While both English and French are the official languages of Canada, the fact that about 68% of Canadians speak only English makes me commend Feu Therese’s ambitious scope. Much of it can be attributed to the talents of frontman Jonathan Parant, a performance artist who is also known as a founding member and guitarist of the Canadian experimental rock group, Fly Pan Am. With over 11 years of experience in hand, Parant has switched his main focus to his other project, Feu Therese. The group is rounded out by bassist Alexandre St-Onge (formerly of The Shalabi Effect), keyboardist and guitarist Stephen De Oliveira, and drummer Luc Paradis. De Oliveira is building a slight reputation as a soundtrack composer for “B-movies” and documentaries, while Paradis is also a painter and illustrator who sells his own art at Feu Therese’s shows. Quite an talented bunch, to say the least.
French aspects aside, the distinguishing factor that sets Feu Therese apart is the form in which the band utilizes their electronical output. While many electronic acts throughout the world usually stray within the typical bounds of dance or pop music, Feu Therese presents a new formula that blends elements of gloomy post-punk with sparkling italo-disco; it is a fresh combination that is approached with enjoyable flexibility. As they displayed on their self-titled debut album in 2006, Feu Therese are never afraid to stretch the line between musical norms and consuming innovation. The debut was an impressive display of Feu Therese’s chops, containing four memorable songs that all exceeded six minutes in length. They were all worth every second too. Their sophomore follow-up, Ã‡a Va Cogner, was released this year and sees the band in more accessible form. Along with the return of their deeply layered and padded melodies, the variety of synths remains more audibly appealing and the vocal use is more abundant. 7 out of the 10 tracks are under 4 minutes too, making Feu Therese’s wholesomely expansive sound play off like an abrupt hook begging for more. As the serene “La nuit est une femme” displays, Feu Therese’s vocal techniques tend to be stranded at points in transition. From a deep voice that mumbles indistinguishable French phrases to a higher-pitched voice that echoes the synthetic melody in its entirety, the use of vocals remains as uncluttered and engaging as the impressive structural backbone of each and every song. With its introductory arpeggio and momentous build-up, “”La nuit est une femme” reminds me somewhat of Kraftwerk’s “The Hall of Mirrors”. It is certainly not a bad thing to be compared to either.
Despite the variety of tracks on Ã‡a Va Cogner bordering on trance and pioneering synth-pop of the early ’80s, the two most impressive ones come back-to-back in successive order, “Le bruit du pollen la nuit” and “Nada”. The first is a dark ride, featuring a variety of guitar-based whirs and moans over an array of glittery synths and persistent percussion. The unconventional vocal delivery remains the most spectacular aspect of the song though. Using a monotonous tone, Paradis initially begins the verse with the coarse mumbling of a French phrase. As a larger arsenal of synths and keys begin to build up, his vocals become less apparent but still remain prominent over a slight mumble that serves only to ignite the excitable chorus that is executed a few moments later. Transitioning into a vocal delivery that moreso resembles the likes of David Bowie, de Oliveira puts forth an interpretable yelp as the backing keys transition from a form of airy minimalism to a more full-fledged form. Wearing shades of post-punk, new wave, and even glam on its sleeve, “Le bruit du pollen la nuit” is one of the best examples of electronica fluidly being incorporated with other genres that are more reliant on droning guitars. “Nada” is simply a fun pop song whose infectious simplicity reminds me of the legendary Yellow Magic Orchestra. No lyrics are spoken, only the bouncy “Ba-ba-ba”s of the lead vocalist over the repetition of fluidly effervescent keyboards and the pulsating synth pads. Though horrendous glam-rock imitators are now being labeled as “’80s revivalists”, it should be bands like Feu Therese who are given that controversial tag. As they mix together post-punk, new wave, and synth-pop with nearly flawless ease, Feu Therese has created a sound that truly brings back the best of a gone decade while simultaneously combining aspects of modern-day electro wizardry.