Sunday, August 14, 2016

Etron Fou Leloublan 
Les Poumons Gonflés

01. Nicolas (4:07)
02. Mimi (2:59)
03. Exposition Universelle (1:43)
04. Nicole (5:41)
05. La Musique (3:03)
06. Christine (6:41)
07. Those Distant Waters (3:17)
08. Upsalla (2:06)
09. Io Prefero (4:30)
10. Pas'l'sou (3:14)

- Guigou Chenevier / drums, tenor sax, vocals
- Bernard Mathieu / soprano & tenor saxophones, backing vocals
- Ferdinand Richard / bass guitar, vocals
- Jo Thirion / Farfisa organ, piano, trumpet, backing vocals
- Fred Frith / violin, guitar (6,10)

In which les 3 fous became 4 with the arrival of keyboard player Jo Thirion, and for the first and only time they had the same sax player for 2 consecutive albums. In addition to the expanded line up, EFL's fourth full length release saw the emphasis shift to relatively short, focused songs and in many ways saw them realise the abundant potential that they displayed on their early albums.

The fundamentals of EFL remained in place, despite the changes. Guigou Chenevier and Ferdinand Richard continued to play their Beefheart style rhythms and declaim their bizarre, surreal lyrics and narratives, which saxophonist Bernard Mathieu roamed around in the spirit of free jazz players everywhere. Jo Thirion added something of a new wave sensibility with her Farfisa playing, alternating between skeletal chords and spidery right hand runs which played off against the sax or vocal melodies. Whether the additional instrument was necessary is debatable, as EFL had always been good at getting the most from their minimal resources, but as a quartet their manic energy was channeled without being compromised. The second half of the album contains two outstanding tracks; Chrisitine revisits a piece from their previous live album and features Guigou Chenevier joining Bernard Mathieu in a tenor sax duet for the song's lengthy coda, while Those Distant Waters features their first English lyrics, delivered a la Inspector Clouseau and as surreal as ever. The sound is further complemented by occasional piano, trumpet and backing vocals by Jo Thirion, and producer Fred Frith adds violin and guitar to a couple of tracks (EFL played on Fred Frith's Speechless album at around the same time).

EFL's early output was sometimes frustrating, with raw inspiration jostling with indulgent noodling, or surreal routines that may have worked well on stage but didn't stand up to repeated listening on a studio release. Les Poumons Gonfles captures the best elements of their early work and manages to inject some discipline into the proceedings without spoiling the fun. This album will appeal to anybody who enjoys the lighter RIO of Sammla Mammas Manna and Fred Frith's Gravity and Speechless albums, or the jazz tinged absurdities of The Muffins and early Soft Machine. Highly recommended.

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