Album Review: Cheveu’s “BUM”

Written by on February 3, 2014


There exists a space.  It’s a magical, and this day and age, seemingly mythical space, where fun and art don’t have to be separate from each other in music. In 2014, the music consumer, it seems more so than ever, can be lumped into a category.  People love to blame popular  radio for the “sheep” mentality that’s developed within the industry’s consumer base, but I see music journalism, particularly from “holier  than thou” sites such as Pitchfork, to be slowly destroying independent music. Independent music, just like the world of radio pop, now has  a set of rules, and an established canon. It’s not credible to like something that either isn’t completely stone faced serious (Arcade Fire, the National, etc.) or completely ridiculous, something fun in an “ironic” way.

So I suppose liking Cheveu as much as I do doesn’t make me very “credible.”  Coming from someone who’s not so much a fan of the indie canon, I can understand how a review on a college radio blog about how an album from three weird French guys who quote “Gummo” in  their lyrics, base entire songs of off bad puns, take stabs at modern day dance club sleaze, and yet allow themselves moments of truly inspired, if slightly demented beauty, is better than the best efforts from Pitchfork’s Hall of Fame, can seem strange.

“BUM” isn’t a concept album about death. It’s not even a concept album. It wasn’t recorded in a church; none of the members are married to Kim Kardashian (don’t you understand that it’s anti-establishment?); the band has never played an Obama campaign benefit show.  So how could it possibly be good?

I’m writing this in hopes of developing a proper explanation, but first, some background.

As I said, Cheveu are three French weirdos.  Stylistically, you could call them synth punk, art punk, dance-punk, post-punk, experimental rock, and at this point, above all, pop-rock.  Many Cheveu listeners have picked up on a Pere Ubu influence.  In addition to that, I’d argue that Cheveu also take cues from the perversion of Serge Gainsbourg, the whimsy of Stereolab, and specifically on this album, Hawkwind, Devo, Brainiac, Melvins, even slight hints of XTC and London Calling-era Clash.  As bizarre as that all might seem, beyond the likelihood that you don’t know French (you might…) and front-man David Lemoîne’s tendency to vocalize a bit like Serge Gainsbourg (which I personally think is awesome), “BUM” is an incredibly catchy, musically varied, consistent, remarkably produced, and accessible album.  I’ve been a huge fan of Cheveu since I first heard them, and it feels as though everything has been leading up to this album, a crystal clear portrait of who Cheveu are, the way “London Calling” was for the Clash; the way “Chocolate and Cheese” was for Ween; the way “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” was for Stereolab.

“BUM” is Cheveu’s best album.

“BUM” is a masterpiece.

Album opener “Pirate Bay” is perhaps the most ‘normal’ song on this album and perhaps of Cheveu’s recording history.  It opens with the sound of gentle waves and clear, reverb-soaked guitar, and this might be the first time in Cheveu song where the guitar actually sounds like guitar.  “Pirate Bay” is, in a sense, the gentle introduction to the rest of the album.  It’s definitely the most relaxed track, marked by subtle shifts in melody, excellent points of juxtaposition between acoustic and electric guitars, whimsical lyrics, and some slight signs of the Hawkwind-esque space-rock elements found throughout the album.  It sounds a bit like a Real Estate song run through a Stereolab filter.  It’s a great opener, but “Pirate Bay” is the sound of everyone arriving at the party.  “Slap and Shot” is what gets the party going.

“Slap and Shot” starts with a simple enough, clean dance-punk riff, which eventually mutates into a progressive dance-punk riff, and then finally a progressive stoner dance-punk riff, reminiscent of what a hybrid of Antidotes-era Foals and Melvins might sound like.  The verses are sung in French and the chorus/hook goes “Slap and SHOT, hey hey HEY.  Shot and SLAP, hey hey HEY.”  Which is to say, to me, lyrically, it’s utter nonsense.  Maybe it’s about hockey?  I don’t really care, it’s not important.  Musically, it goes through so many interesting shifts while still being a total “party and shout and fail about like a moron” song that it’s an utter joy.

And then in comes “Polonia”…

“Polonia” is an epic.  It’s a masterful sound collage composed of pulsating electronics, dramatic synths, guitars that drone and buzz, chanted vocals, soaring operatic backdrops, movie quotes from French cult film “Buffet froid”, and samples that sound like someone screaming in pain.  It’s utterly bizarre, self-indulgent, and an absolute shoe-in for the best song you’ll hear all year.

Elsewhere, there’s “Blood and Gore”, with it’s sinister and slinking bass-line during the verses, and wall-of-sound, low-end, HEAVY guitars and cymbal crashes that sound like windows being shattered in the far-off distance, while Lemoîne screams “WHEN IT COMES TO GORE, YOU BLOODY ADORE!’ in his signature gritty and slurred voice; the “Gummo”-monologue-centric “Albinos” (the band have a clear affinity for cult films); the completely daft, yet oddly touching and life-affirming should-be super hit “Juan in a Million”; the bouncy and hilarious single “Stadium” (“you’re… DAMN RIGHT!”); impossibly catchy cowpunk/electronic dance hybrid “Madame Pompidou”; multi-layered instrumental/choral harmony exhibition “Monsieur Perrier”; and perhaps my personal favorite, the reggae-tinged closer “Johnny Hurry Up”.

In the past, Cheveu (much like Ween during the 90s), seemed determined to mask their talent with odd production choices, and seemingly random song topics.  I’ve found Cheveu excellent from the beginning, but I feel a comparison is in order (for those who know about Ween); “The Pod” is to “Cheveu” what “Pure Guava” is to “1000” what “Chocolate and Cheese” is to “BUM”.

Cheveu are still bizarre, eccentric, weird, goofy, etc.  But they’re no longer trying to mask how good they are.  It should be apparent now that David Lemoîne, Étienne Nicolas, and Olivier Demeaux are pop geniuses of the highest order, and that “BUM” is their crowning achievement.  Catchy, inventive, devoid of pretentiousness, and quality consistent at an unbelievable level, this is an absolute must-listen for anyone who calls themselves a music fan.  A feast for the ears of the music connoisseur.

And I couldn’t care less if Pitchfork gives it “Best New Music”.  I can do it myself.


Best New Music

Score: 9.6/10 (Absolute must-listen; classic-worthy)


By Travis Shosa

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