Hidden Memories (Toolong)
As any Smiths or Joy Division/New Order fan knows, as any listener to The Magnetic Fields or early Belle And Sebastian can tell you, as anyone who has succumbed to The Cure or chanson will show you, it is possible to be morose and happy, fatalistic and hopeful, downbeat and upbeat, at the same time. And it’s good for you.
Not just because there’s something cathartic in the release which comes from letting emotion spill out - though that shouldn’t be underestimated - but because in pop music terms, you can sound as if you know there’s no point (low, slow, and asking to be held closely until tomorrow never comes) but still offer pleasures that provide that very point (melodies that attract, sounds that comfort, lyrics which entertain).
As his work under the name Somehow shows, Frenchman Erwan Perpiot understands this. Indeed, revels in it. Like a good dose of most of the acts mentioned in that first paragraph, Somehow songs asks you to forget about the why you are conflicted (Am I supposed to be sad? Am I having a bit too much fun being sad?) and simply go with it.
The deepish-voiced Perpiot can sing a line like “we are marching to Cairo”, in A Man And A Diving Soul, with a tone that suggests it may as well be “we’re marching from Stalingrad in winter and it’s fair to say Liebchen things aren’t going well” all while finding that Robert Smith line between melancholia and mordant hope. And then in Fear Of Heights make you spin around like you’re on Top Of The Pops with some long stemmed flowers sticking out of your low-hanging jeans’ hip pocket.
In Someday there’s a mandolin solo and a virtual Peter Hook bass presence over a little skipping rhythm and acoustic flourishes so that you hover between grey and blue, a move replicated in While The Days Go By, where that high, inquisitive bassline is paired with what might well be a dinky Casio and lots of snare work.
Even in Meaningless Thoughts In Dark Times, a song title that can only come from some crushed corner of the mind, there’s a bass/acoustic guitar interplay and spring-loaded indie disco dance rhythm that can only come from some self-aware/self-mocking refusenik in that same corner. Morrissey and Marr owned that corner.
Another smart move Perpiot – who played and recorded everything - makes across these songs is including the voice of Aurelie Tremblay. She doesn’t work exactly as contrast, for her tone is classically French in that it’s imperfect and mostly delivered almost as deadpanned as his, but as shading.
During All The Ways Are Leading To You (in its elegant pop classicism easily the most Magnetic Fields moment on Hidden Memories), she lightens his brushstrokes; for Meet Me At The Western Point she brings a touch of beyond-the-curtains vision; and in Escape (in its cheap but bustling energy easily the most Belle And Sebastian moment here) Tremblay injects a little elegance into the suburban boy bedroom mix.
Happy and sad.