It looks like somebody got a shipment of 1990s Midwest indie and math rock records on the Continent. Somehow the material made it through French customs and into the hands of four guys, likely all sitting at a café eating baguettes and sipping wine in their striped shirts and berets, complaining about the decline of Western culture. After rummaging through this acquisition and ingesting the likes of Maserati, Tortoise, Slint, Rodan, and Bastro, the boys were spurred into action – they grew beards and traded their stripes for flannel and jeans, and focused their passionate rebuttals wordlessly through big guitars, drums, and keys.
(Does that French stereotype ever get old? It does? Sorry, the French.)
(Honestly, I love France.)
Right right, enough of the silliness, please set your browsers to Jean Jean’s Bandcamp or Soundcloud page and download this EP. It’s good. Surprisingly good. Surprising because it took me a year and a half to hear it. Good because it’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s a vital take on the sort of post punk/math rock I mention above, without pretense, and without reservation or hesitation. Surprising, again, because it comes from France. No, I’m not busting chops this time (there are some great bands that have come out of France), but Jean Jean’s sound strikes me as unusual for its locus. It’s not Chicago, Louisville, or Madison, central hubs for innovative musicians. It’s Sept-Sorts, a town in north-central France (says Facebook – Soundcloud says Paris, so who knows). I do not expect overeager fist-pumping in the clubs of Sept-Sorts to the strains of whirling post punk. That’s probably not just me.
But let’s get right to it. Jean Jean is four lads – au français: Sebastien Torregrossa (guitares), Edouard Lebrun (batterie), Jérémy Savry (claviers / samples / tambourin rose étoilé), Vincent Moulin (basse) (see, so much nicer!) – who rock as hard as any tightly wound unit. “Fresher” quickly gets to what you should expect, as clean guitars and drums crash with buzzing synth underneath, a quick indie rock tempo shortly halting to a stuttering emo break, and this continues off and on, at points featuring more atmospheric guitar, at others distorted strumming. It’s Despistado meets The Cancer Conspiracy, and lacks no sense of dynamic excitement. By the time it’s about to wind to a close, handclaps, piano, and delay are introduced, really highlighting the range of the song. It’s wildly entertaining, fast-paced, and worthy of repeat listens, even immediately after the song ends. That’s right, listen to it again.
Or not – move on to “Bayonette,” it’s just as good. This one blasts by quickly, in less than two minutes, and “Iowa” lasts a spare 2:34. The former features manic organ and jumpy and scratchy guitar, and wordless howls emanate from at least one band member. These are buried in the mix, so it’s a nice textural addition. “Iowa” scales back a little bit and pushes the electric piano to the front, but it doesn’t take long for the sinewy guitars to overtake the mix. The piano re-emerges as a welcome accoutrement, and the breakdowns recall classic Drive Like Jehu – and when was the last time somebody really wore their Jehu love on their sleeve? (Seriously – has that become uncool?) Dissonant guitars drive the tune to a close.
And then the mood shifts, decidedly into more Cancer Conspiracy/Maserati territory as delayed guitar arpeggios introduce the first of the final two tracks, both lengthier compositions that shift gradually, whereas the beginning of the EP features shifts on a dime. “Elli Lilly” twinkles and shimmers for half its runtime before it starts teetering massively back and forth in cathartic bursts. But it’s really when the downtime hits during the second half of the song where the nuances are left to fend for themselves in the valleys of shining guitar peaks, calling attention to just how well the song is put together. Speaking of peaks, “With Mountains as Witness” closes the EP on a false start of shimmer before bursting with punk energy. It mimics “Elli Lilly” in that the dynamic goes back and forth, but it differs in that it ends on an extended krautrock run that lasts about three minutes.
So yeah, there’s quite a bit to like here. Listen, share with your friends, and rest well at night in the knowledge that you’ve done the work and turned a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings on to a band they may not have heard otherwise. Vive la France!
RIYL: Maserati, Double Handsome Dragons, The Cancer Conspiracy