Charlotte Gainsbourg continues to push her music into unexpected directions.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Charlotte Gainsbourg continues to push her music into unexpected directions. Her last two albums, the Beck-produced IRM and Stage Whisper, could have acted as a tribute to Serge himself, songs such as “Heaven Can Wait” and “Le Chat du Café des Artistes” deliberately echoing the famously erotic chamber pop of his groundbreaking, Histoire de Melody Nelson. However, just as Serge enacted dramatic change in his music, so too does Charlotte in her latest, Rest, a dark sojourn of disco thumps, shimmering synths and Gainsbourg’s airy vocals.
While Gainsbourg may sometimes delve into yacht rock territory, there’s always an air of anxiety suspended about Rest. Opener “Ring-a-Ring O’ Roses” menacingly lumbers, it’s simple yet dragging snare and kick rhythm acting as an anchor for Gainsbourg’s wispy vocals given flight through halls of reverb. Interpolating the children’s playground rhyme of the same name in its chorus, Gainsbourg skirts around darker topics in breezy French.
The specters of death and loss hang heavy throughout Rest. Both the passing of her half-sister Kate Barry and her father are obliquely brought up, giving extra weight to Gainsbourg’s decision to personally write all her lyrics for the first time. “We’re walking in the air/ We’re floating in the moonlit sky/ I’m finding I can fly/ So high above with you,” whispers Gainsbourg in Rest’s title track, a soft lullaby with chiming electric pianos wrapped around lilting synth arpeggios, co-written with Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
Rest features a number of high-profile collaborations, with names ranging from cult favorites (Connan Mockasin, Owen Pallett) to chart-topping icons (Paul McCartney, Daft Punk), though you’d never notice it. A blind listen would reveal no obvious cameos, their contributions either co-writes or subtle musical additions. Ed Banger’s SebastiAn is Gainsbourg’s main collaborator here, and his dance-ready mindset is the impetus for Rest’s portions of Chromatics-esque downbeat disco.
“Deadly Valentine”’s svelte beat is accented by gurgling synths and dramatic swoops of violins, Gainsbourg’s voice taking on a robotic timbre as the song rises to Daft Punkian levels of robot rock, ironically more so than the aforementioned co-write. Meanwhile, deep hits of bass pin down a frantic piano and heavy drums in “Lying with You”—strong PJ Harvey vibes abound, though Gainsbourg’s dreamy delivery gives everything a disarmingly narcoleptic quality as she whispers, “My feet are hovering above ground/ Ready to follow/ My mouth is whispering in raptures/ Celebrating you.”
Whereas Side A laments with lithe melodies and funereal atmospherics, Rest’s B-side is unexpectedly upbeat. “Sylvia Says” has a surprisingly funky flex, bubbly melodies and soaring chorus to boot, while “Songbird in a Cage” sees Gainsbourg give up her breathy vocals for a post-punk spoken-funk that reimagines a dreamy Lizzy Mercier Descloux. It’s a somewhat jarring switch-up at first, but Gainsbourg mostly manages to pull it off thanks to her conviction to the material.
“Les Crocodiles” balances heavy hits of bass with Air-esque synth flourishes, delicately pushing both aside during an orchestral-heavy chorus. “I’m a Lie,” similarly takes on a heavy low-end in the form of buzzing fuzz bass riffage. Only the stomping “Dans Vos Airs” abandons the dancefloor in favor of a ‘60s pop swing. “Les Oxalis” acts as a suitably cinematic ending, its rushed hi-hat groove running alongside Gainsbourg’s swiftly spoken monologue before giving way to a tangled array of synths.
Rest exudes a cool confidence, despite the album’s downbeat thematics. While the album’s overreliance on disco tropes can sometimes hinder its replayability, SebastiAN’s buzzing synth production proves to be a suitable fit for Gainsbourg’s flexible vocals. While IRM may still be her strongest effort, Rest proposes exciting new frontiers for Gainsbourg.