On Le Fil (The Thread), the human voice is not so much an instrument as it is an entire orchestra. Experimental, defiantly French and impossible to ignore, the 18 brief tracks, united by the thread of a single unobtrusive note sustained throughout the album, get under the skin and stay there.
That's a good thing, mostly: French sensation Camille's music is both idiosyncratic and innovative -- sort of a cross between French pop and a cappella on hallucinogens -- without being unlistenable. No mean feat, considering the CD includes the sounds of lips being popped, raspberries being blown and tongues performing unlikely acrobatics. Nearly all the sounds on the CD come from Camille's single and certainly singular throat, with a little help from technology and light instrumentation. Over her densely layered soundscapes, harmonies and syncopated rhythms, Camille sings of everything from dysfunctional relationships to grammar and Egyptian deities. Alternately sounding like a schoolgirl, a retro chanteuse and a rebellious teenager, Camille's pleasant but otherwise unextraordinary voice becomes distinctive in its extreme versatility.
The CD opens with "La Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Blancs (The Young Girl with White Hair)." It's probably about the closest Camille comes to either straight pop or a cappella, but the unconventional chorus suggests the eccentricity that fully emerges on the percussion of "Ta Douleur (Your Pain)," a swingy, upbeat piece about, well, pain. With raspberries. It's eclectic, but it works. The same could be said of the whole CD: "Rue de Menilmontant" is a dainty retro-sounding tune that would fit on the soundtrack to Amelie, but its simplicity is more than balanced out by the three "Janine" tracks. All use the same simple melody but modify lyrics, tone and tempo to the effect that the first is arch and mischievous, the second langorous and sultry, the third infuriated and chaotic. It has Camille spitting out in rapid French, "Pourquoi tu m'appelles erreur / alors que je suis humaine? (Why do you call me error when I am human?)" Together the three variations capture the emotional and auditory range of Le Fil in all its damaged innocence, suppressed neuroticism and insistent individuality.
There are just a few snags in the thread. The slow ballad "Pour Que l'Amour Me Quitte (So That Love Leaves Me)" with its '80s synthesizer background is rather dull, and the three bonus tracks tacked on to the end don't quite seem to fit the rest of the CD -- the noisy "J'ai Tort" (which does not, as I initially thought, have anything to do with cake) culminates in a squeal that sounds uncannily like a tortured electric guitar. The last of the bonus tracks, "Lumiere," includes a half hour of the same single note. I get the metaphor (sustained note = musical thread), but 30 minutes of metaphor is pretentious and self-indulgent, even to an ex-English major.
A final caveat: the French lyrics included in the liner notes are left largely untranslated, to the woe of all of us who are less than proficient in French. To an extent, the words are unimportant to appreciating the music -- my favorite track, after all, is the bell-like, wordless "Senza." But the French lyrics tantalize by suggesting Camille's words are as poetic, startling and unconventional as her music. In "Vous," for example, there seems to be something about a talking hippo in a tutu along with an unmistakable reference to Tony Blair.
It becomes obvious that the real thread that runs through the CD is not so much the droned note, but the unflagging creativity of the whole. Like the work of fellow experimental artists Bjork and Jorane, Le Fil is not exactly easy listening -- but it is stimulating and unexpectedly palatable, a cocktail for the auditory senses.
by Jennifer Mo