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La Femme: Paradigmes

La Femme always indulged in excess. Their debut LP combines three disparate yet popular adjectives thrown around popular music today. And despite its strangeness, Psycho Tropical Berlin tied together the band’s sound: an ominous, groovy, synthetic take on garage rock. They’ve never shied from sounding goofy or gross (see: their song about having a rash), and for that, one can expect some campy theatrics in their third LP, Paradigmes. Sound-wise, it’s pretty much exactly the type of psychedelic disco rock you know and love them for, maybe just a tad more of everything (horns, vocalists, etc.) than before.

On the title track, we enter the presleep stasis where the mind expands in exhilarating and uncomfortable ways. Before their heads fall completely to rest, people reflect: on their day, their past, their regrets, their dreams. Perfume Genius sums it up quite nicely. La Femme straddles that line where consciousness and sleep blur, where subconscious thoughts float to the surface. As the night takes hold, the lyrics pledge to submit to their desires. Not a song later, “Le Sang De Mon Prochain,” vocalist Lisa Hartmann gives herself over to vampiric urges.

There’s simply a lot going on in Paradigmes, a crowded effect that offers a sort of communal relief in an era of shuttered venues and clubs. The instruments vary from trombones to banjos while the various singers follow their own routines as they cartwheel between stoner-speak, Spanish and Daft Punk Auto-Tune. Despite Marlon Magnée’s claim that no unified concept runs through Paradigmes, one could argue that exaggeration keeps it under the same umbrella.

As previously stated, La Femme lend themselves to a certain amount of camp―for one thing, there is an ocarina in the video for “Le Sang De Mon Prochain,” and the Bride of Frankenstein sings opera in “Disconnexion.” The Western interlude, “Lâcher de Chevaux,” throws in a few “neighs” just in case you you didn’t picture cowboys already. Even in their live sets, the band performs full Halloween costume changes.

Unable to let loose in-person in 2020, they do so in their songs, embodying succubi, annoying tourist, and revolutionaries (an M.I.A. kind on “Force & Respect,” the garage rock kind on “Foutre Le Bordel”). Such exaggerations demonstrate how ridiculous something like American stoner-speak really sounds: “It’s rad, dude, and you don’t give a fuck / And just goin’ high, so high” delivered through a thick, uncompromising French take on an American accent registers as cringey for many reasons other than its delivery.

That cringiness sometimes works to varying degrees of success. “Foreigner,” which has the same drive and lackadaisical delivery as Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day,” is the song of a jackass, albeit one with a welcome disco kink. The women of La Femme endure an uncomfortable, unasked-for recounting of a childhood romance with “Pasadena” only to mercifully, graciously enjoin the guy to shut and grow up.

Still, sincerity has its own place within Paradigmes, an honesty which cuts through playtime the way tragedy interrupts life itself: “Un día es la bandera pirata y el otro la bandera blanca/ One day is the pirate flag and the other the white flag.” The band’s own sorrows enter in the final fourth of the album, including a track dedicated to a friend who took their own life. It’s perhaps due to an understanding of life’s unfair, unpredictable interruptions that La Femme revels in the joys of dress-up and play-pretend. The album concludes not with death but boredom―they realize they’ve got no true panacea for death. But monotony? All that needs is melody, theatrics and a willingness to succumb to both.

With more elements at their disposal than ever, La Femme embrace camp and a shimmering sound to express themselves. Decadence and ridiculousness run rampant here.
70 %
Decadent and Ridiculous
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