PALO ALTO: “Asphodèles de l’asphalte” ****

Recorded between 1989 and 1992

 

Palo Alto was a French quartet active in the 1990s. Denis Frajerman, Jacques Barbéri, Philippe Perreaudin and Philippe Masson successfully reconciled two distinct musical traditions – quintessentially Gallic miniatures and a very un-French approach to studio processing. The results were stupefying. The pictorial depth of their recordings could only be matched by Denis Frajerman’s solo adventures. Their rich, phantasmagorical paysages were populated by odd shapes and eerie shadows. This was rock electronics of volcanic creativity.

 

The band disappeared from sight around 2000. More recently, a number of archival recordings saw the light of the French day (with, regrettably, little light anywhere else). The collection presented here was among them.

 

After several cameo appearances on various tribute records (Ptose, Coil), the band resurfaced live and finally published a new CD in late 2007. They seem to be active again, publishing music, video and books.

 

Le chant posthume

Self-declared overdrive bass opens the record as if evoking the zeuhl heritage. Il n’en est rien. This piece and the entire record will be strongly rooted in the then inescapable tradition of post-new wave stylisms and Residents-like nightmares. Following a sequence of faux tubular bells, a quasi hysterical female vocalism sidetracks our attention. But instead, a slow progression on keyboards remains stuck in pentatonic scale. The “song” closes with unsettling ingressive vocal sounds.

 

Asphodèle de l’asphalte

Mechanical mambo jolts from the rhythm box, accompanied by a very juicy electric bass which will define the record’s title piece. This simple repetitive melody will see no development, despite, or may be because of a somewhat anemic Middle Eastern phrasing.

 

Madame la charcutière

This is little more than an epigrammatic piano vignette. Two female voices, courtesy Claire and Nathalie, turn the nascent melody into a non-sequitur.

 

Séquence 4

Manipulated, growling voices open this sequence. Deeper, subharmonic layers provide a canvas for sharp snippets of alto sax loops. Independently, percussive pattering envelopes a sketchy keyboard melody and grows in intensity, but will not obscure the melodic line.

 

Les flots sont moins bleus que les sables

After an all-too-short intro on maghrebian recorder, over-familiar electronic pulse zooms in. Luckily, hyperactive balalaika soon floods us with rapid figures, contending for space with vaguely Middle Eastern harmonics. It is then substituted by a pre-dawn clarinet. One searches for references to Joseph Racaille, but in vain.

 

Cosette

Formulaic tune played by Denis Frajerman on multi tracked keyboards in a shrugging Klimperei style.

 

Monsters are Bach

We revisit the Residents recipe – marching aliens, distorted voices at triple speed and mechanic reversals of muscular electro-feedback. Squeezed into this stomping, the keyboard theme is actually less straightforward than in the previous pieces.

 

Anomala

Innocuous rhythm box hails from deep in the 1980s – an unabashedly new wavy reminiscence. Were it not for the spastic balalaika in the background, the tune could almost be adorned with affected vocals à la the Cure.

 

Paysage: nul chant d’oiseau

Simplistic electronic meter chops about for another meal of pentatonic figures. But then we are reached by austere effects of untuned strings. The resonating twang evokes African kora, but we should not be misled, as the sound apparently emerges from a cheap keyboard that Philippe found at a flea market. The mixed-down balalaika returns, bridging those dull pizzicato explorations with the mutant rhythm.

 

Musique de l’enfer 1

The ghastliness of this miniature will barely attain the standard of the B-movie. The somewhat ramshackle beat will brake before we have even noticed.

 

Musique de l’enfer 2

This is a more exploratory dance macabre, adorned with echoing alto sax. The morbid, electronic pulse recalls, this time again, the Residents.

 

Avant la naissance

This number is based on a procedure well known since 1960s – a tape recording, here with a text in French, cut short and sent through a loop. After several seconds, the repetition graces us with an irregular rhythm until new loops of other conversations and radio announcements are overlaid on top. Fortunately, the collage never becomes too dense. After nearly 3 minutes this sonic sauce is supplemented by a heavily processed source of electronic origin, but it will not materially alter the original theme. Henceforth, the track develops along two surfaces. Jacques Barbéri’s strident alto saxophone cuts through this mass until the electro-throb returns and drowns out all the other contributions.

 

Friture

The next two compositions present Palo Alto as a quintet and are more consciously developed. Here melodramatic recitation by Marie-Laurence Amouroux extrudes phonemic values from the interplay of pre-programmed rhythm-box and a warm bass clarinet. The alto saxophone, as often on this collection, soars independently. Philippe Masson multiplies the grating mechanical beats.

 

Le pont

Another anti-chanson. This one approaches the style developed several years before by Alesia Cosmos. The stripped down female voice seems to be slowing down the hesitant theme. The reeds contribute sparsely to the overall cartoonish image.

 

La quatuor vocale

The last recording is something of a throwaway – an experiment of a multi-tracked vocal contributed by Philippe Perreaudin.

 

***

 

All those who wish to uncover Palo Alto’s other jewels, here are some recommendations:

 

PALO ALTO: Le close (1990)

PALO ALTO: Grand succédanés (1992)

PALO ALTO: Asphodèle de l’asphalte (1989-1992)

PALO ALTO: Excroissance (1993) MC

PALO ALTO: Trash et artères (1993-1994)

PALO ALTO: Le disque dur (1996)

PALO ALTO: Trans Plan (1998 )

PALO ALTO / KLIMPEREI: Mondocane (1995-2000)

PALO ALTO: Terminal sidéral (2005-2007)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Pogs Box (2001), remixes

Denis FRAJERMAN: Mandibules (1990, 1994) MC

Denis FRAJERMAN – PALO ALTO Solo: Le souffle du vide (1992-1995)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Drosophiles (1995) MC

Denis FRAJERMAN – Jacques BARBERI – PALO ALTO: Le nom des arbres (1996)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Les suites Volodine (1997)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Fasmes vol.1 (1997)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Macau Peplum (1996-1999)

 

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