St Germain – St Germain (2015) Review

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By Rave Dobbyn on October 12, 2015

When we last heard from Ludovic Navarre, the French DJ & producer better known as St. Germain, it was before the age of controller raves and laptop nightmares. It was 2000 and there was a sense that technology as going to be a life-enhancing, ease-promoting, creativity-fostering force… and ‘Tourist’ bought this audibly to every café & late night dry hump spot worldwide. Navarre’s music has a clearly defined aesthetic. Built on solid loops, precision-tuned, smooth-motoring creations, loose and tight at once. Spaciousness allows for quirky off-script improvisations— indeed, the constant shift between lockstep pulse and random outburst made Tourist seductive to jazz assholes and the denizens of clubland, sets rarely overlapping beyond Dingwalls. It sold more than 3 million copies, Navarre toured behind it for more than two years, at times performing in the company of many musical luminaires. And then he disappeared…

In a recent interview he recognized that he couldn’t simply return to the same ideas or atmospheres so he embarked on an extended period of research and experimentation. Burrowing into the music of West Africa to find the links between Africa and the blues Navarre found a way to do something quintessentially St. Germain: devising loops that serve as a backdrop for heated instrumental ad-libbing. Six years of full-time labour, the quality ear still shines.

Though his endeavour is electronic, he’s tapped into core ideas that have served African musicians for generations. Most tunes are organized around short recurring riffs and bloblike single-note bass textures. Their predictability inspires contributors to go in the opposite direction, shattering the poised setting with impassioned vocal entreaties or equally raw, twisted-up guitar cries. Navarre remains a master of the textural mix; a producer whose sweeping effects and atmospheric auras become part of the structure of the tunes. Still, the other musicians deserve just as much credit for the overall feeling. Listening closely you get the sense that the hired hands ended up teaching Navarre a lot about the delicate balance that gives African music its nuance and grace. Nothing here feels heavy or laboured — in fact, some tracks sound like they could have happened live in the studio. For years, a standing criticism of loop-based music has been that its repetitions rarely elevate, much less soar. That’s not the case here. In those moments, everyone involved is seeking not just the right notes, but the most apt expression; sounds that lift the music into higher spirit realms.

Here’s your tipple…

 

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