Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicago, Meet French Electro-pop Chanteuse Emilie Simon

Posted By on 10.14.09 at 01:32 PM

Emilie Simon
  • Emilie Simon
On Thursday night, as part of this year’s Decibelle Music and Culture Festival, French pop singer Emilie Simon makes her Chicago debut at Berlin. She’s probably best known for soundtracking the popular documentary La Marche de L'empereur—though when the film came out here, as March of the Penguins, it was accompanied by more conventional score from Alex Wurman. The producers apparently didn’t think North American audiences would’ve been able to handle Simon’s music.

Her score turned up stateside as her second U.S. album, 2007’s March of the Empress (Milan), and though much of it is lovely, it’s hardly challenging—many of the tracks are demure and slightly abstract, creating a glistening electronic sound world that evokes the beauty but not the fury of the Antarctic. Simon sounds much bigger and more forceful on “Song of the Storm,” where glitches and buzzes lash against an ominous faux-tribal thump and she counters with a thin but dramatic vocal melody. That song also turned up on her U.S. debut, 2006’s The Flower Book (Milan), which collects tracks from her first two French albums, most of them sung in English.

Simon’s new album, The Big Machine, hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet, though it’s more commercial, with less quirky arrangements. She still has her peculiar, flexible voice, which can sound childlike one moment, brassy the next, and on the new record she taps into that range like never before, bringing an urgency to the performances that reminds me an awful lot of Kate Bush—good news for some people, maybe, but not for me.

CuCu Diamantes
  • CuCu Diamantes
Also in town Thursday night (for a gig at Rumba) is Cuban singer CuCu Diamantes, longtime lead vocalist for New York’s pan-Caribbean Yerba Buena. Earlier this year she released her first solo album, CuCuLand (Fun Machine), whose songs represent a refinement of her main band’s cosmopolitan party music—bits of salsa, cumbia, hip-hop, mariachi, flamenco, and funk pulse through all of it, and in Yerba Buena as well as on her new record Diamantes nonchalantly flips between lusty singing and saucy rapping. The biggest difference on CuCuLand is the lean, glossy sound—Andres Levin, Yerba Buena bassist and bandleader as well as Diamantes’s husband, produced the album, and though all sorts of stuff darts through the arrangements (guitars, electronics, Afro-Caribbean percussion, horns, turntable scratching), it’s all compressed into a sleek, shiny pop package.

Emilie Simon photo: Elizabeth Sentianin
CuCu Diamantes photo: Anna Bernstein

Today’s playlist:

Marva Whitney, It’s My Thing (Soul Brother)
Jimmy Greene, Mission Statement (Razdaz/Sunnyside)
The Intelligence, Fake Surfers (In the Red)
Alaíde Costa, Coração (EMI, Brazil)
Tomomi Adachi, Early Works & Live 1994-1996 (Edition Omega Point)

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