Overblown’s Top French Language Albums

Overblown's Top French Language Albums

Overblown’s team of writers represents multiple timezones, with our staff hailing from Ireland, England, Canada, Poland, and Portugal and more, coagulating into a bubbling cauldron of diverse tastes and outlooks. This leads to Overblown’s unique intersection between culture, geography and music. Taking our globalization as inspiration we’ve begun compiling our most cherished non-Anglophone albums to highlight the music the algorithms tend to skip. Our next stop is France.

Long heralded as a monument of Western culture, France’s music output straddles the line between Anglophone and European influences. It’s equally as renowned for its electronic music scene thanks to Daft Punk and Justice as it is for classical pop. The country also houses a healthy metal history with some of the harshest bands today decimating their throats in the language of love. Our list includes dashes of extreme metal, screamo, yé-yé and more for the auditory tourist.

Alcest – Écailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions) [2010]

Perhaps the most influential blackgaze band Alcest were initially a solo project under the tutelage of guitarist, Stéphane “Neige” Paut. The intention was to replicate the cold and raw black metal of the second-wave bands from Norway with their demo displaying this minimalist style. Neige sought to make the band’s music more personal to him and changed style. Their debut, Souvenirs d’un autre monde drew comparisons to the likes of Jesu and My Bloody Valentine more than fellow black metal outfits.

Écallies de Lune was the perfection of Neige’s blend of shoegaze and black metal. Believed by many to be a reflection on death, it actually harkened back to Neige’s childhood. He fanaticized about existing in a world inhabited by fairies and spirits which paralleled our own; moving from one world to another and the consequences both fantastical and terrifying. It marked a darker voyage into the world of shoegaze, whilst returning to the harsher vocals from their beginning. There is a yearning quality to the shimmering guitar and synth lines which rest alongside powerful roars. Neige managed to break free from conventions to express his true self. – Philip Morrissey

Year of No Light – Ausserwelt (Conspiracy Records) [2010]

Starting as a side-project, the Bordeaux based outfit experimented with their sound early on. Initially containing a vocalist, they soon begun to attract attention for their approach, drawing comparisons to other rising acts like Alcest and Les Discrets. There as a difference, however. Alcest gave us a dream-like glimpse into the beings who influence the natural world, and Les Discrets provided more of a grounded, powerful stab at blackgaze, combining a post-metal feel with a heavier sludge sound. Year of No Light’s debut, Nord, was released during this spell. Soon afterwards they felt that a changing approach would be better transmitted via being solely instrumental.

Ausserwelt upped the ante to a whole new level. Bulking up their line-up to include three guitarists, two drummers and a swathe of keys and electronics afforded them a sound combining doom, sludge and shoegaze which creates a wholly immersive feel more akin to drone bands like Nadja. Once they lock into their groove one cannot help but be swept up in the vast soundscapes coming forth. Melody is not their thing, but that is not to say moments of extraordinary beauty and elegance are lacking. Plenty of moments to enjoy for all listeners. – Philip Morrissey

Françoise Hardy – Tous les garçons et les filles (Disques Vogue) [1962]

Not only could this record be a great introduction to French pop, it can tell you about the Sixties’ counterculture and the power of minimalism. But mostly it shows you how timeless and amazing the artist behind it is.

When this record came out Françoise Hardy was only 18 and she did something even the most prominent female artists of the ’60s couldn’t – she wrote her own material. It was not until later in the ’60s that Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Nico came in the picture as singer-songwriters. It wasn’t so common in France back then either.

The sound of Tous les garçons et les filles was influenced by Anglophone music of the era. It can considered the French answer to rockabilly and jazz, but it is Hardy’s aesthetic that made it timeless.

Her expression is minimalistic and seductive . The lyrics are candid and mature. There are no unnecessary hooks and ornaments. Minimalistic percussion, accentuated bass, an occasional twang and her voice (oh, what a voice!) do the trick. – Leslie Buzz

Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melody Nelson(Philips Records) [1971]

I’m not sure I really like this guy, but it’s not like he cares. I found Serge Gainsbourg’s music through covers of his songs done by other artists in other languages. Years later I was told he is a master of French and famous for his use of irony and puns. Since I don’t speak the language I’m not qualified to confirm that’s true, but I believe it. It’s a common belief that Gainsbourg, the epitome of a cool French artist and lover, is what people say he is. Why? Because of Histoire de Melody Nelson.

This is a concept album and once you know the concept, the words are just ornaments in this slightly illegal love affair of record. In 28-minutes we are told a pseudo-autobiographical story about a middle-aged man (Gainsbourg) and his romantic adventures with a teenage girl named Melody Nelson. Sounds familiar? Undoubtedly, it has Lolita written all over it.

The musical style – composed by Jean-Claude Vannier – is simple but rich. To this day it’s considered Gainsbourg’s best work. – Leslie Buzz

Fange – Punir (Throatruiner Records) [2019]

I like to think of Punir as that which you hear on your merry descent to hell, as far as the human condition can possibly allow. It’s not every day that you find a record so oppressive yet so enjoyable  as Fange’s 2019 release. There’s a vileness in the melodies and all their petrifying might which fittingly go hand in hand with the harrowing though masterfully conjoined lyricism.

The Rennes-based industrial sludge trio have best described their craft as making “ignorant music for the educated man.” That might seem hard to picture, coming from a band whose work is capable of obliterating sound barriers, yet the statement is not entirely untrue. Punir is a definite pick for those in dire need of a sound that is uncompromisingly brutal while never losing focus on innovative songwriting. – José Garcia

Antena – Camino Del Sol (Les Disques Du Crépuscule) [1982]

Have you ever wondered what would be the result of combining Bossa Nova with Synthpop? If for some odd reason you did, then this short LP by Antena might be just for you. Spanning less than 20 minutes, with only 5 tracks this album is one of the hidden gems of the early ’80s. With its futuristic fusion of two seemingly distant genres, it laid solid foundations for groups such as Stereolab (seriously you could put the title track on any of the late 90’s Stereolab albums and I wouldn’t even notice).

Speaking of title tracks – ‘Camino del Sol’ is simply a perfect song. Driven by a tropical drum beat and beautiful French vocals it instantly transports you to some paradise island by the beach, the synth patterns during the chorus seems just like a cherry on top of a colorful drink.

Current releases of Camino del Sol available on streaming services also includes bonus tracks that extend this short LP to almost an hour and are definitely up to the quality of the original five, so make sure you check them out too! – Bartek Zaparucha

Daïtro – Laissez Vivre Les Squelettes (Last Day Of June/Purepainsugar) [2005]

The title of Daïtro’s second album, translated to “let the skeletons live,” is an unintentionally apt summation of its legacy. The Lyon screamo band were operating on well worn grounds by the time of Laissez Vivre Les Squelettes’ release. Their post-rock sequences danced with piercing shrieks and spoken word passages swiveled amongst shining guitar arpeggios in what was to be expected of a mid-aughts screamo release. Daïtro ascended past the peak of the genre with a biting guitar tone that lapsed like waves against the shore and swelling interludes that receded into the ocean. Their intertwined guitar harmonies emphasized melodicism over violence. As later screamo acts would mine this era for inspiration moreso than its powerviolence roots the flag Daïtro planted is still gazed upon by acts like Pianos Become the Teeth and State Faults. Laissez Vivre Les Squelettes sits as the culmination of a genre, a skeleton of the past, as well as the anatomical blueprint younger bands studied. – Colin Dempsey

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