The Cars are the Stars: Fragments
Chez Moi Records

Already released in France in June 2003, Fragments is the second album from French group The Cars are the Stars, its eponymous first release having been issued in 2000 under the name Playdoh. The group's a collective of seven individuals (six musicians and a video artist) who infuse glitchy electronic music with an indie-rock sensibility on ten elastically handled songs. Instrumentals appear amidst the primarily vocal pieces, with the songs' French and English lyrics delivered by male and female voices, though precisely who is singing what isn't entirely clear. As the band's vocalists Marielle Martin and Sébastien Reggiany are joined on the album by guest singers Olivier and Kate Combault, one can't know if the alternating singers on “Silent,” for example, are the first pair or the second (though one might presume the former).

Regardless, the album's a rather middling affair, with some material excellent and some less so. The instrumentals are effective enough, whether they're of the more peaceful, ambient kind (“Mouvement […]”) or the more aggressive and complex (like “Kastrup Airport” whose field elements merge with elegant piano before concluding in a less interesting bass, drums, and guitar episode).

The best of the vocal songs is the superb “Helikopter,” a convincing acoustic-electronic hybrid distinguished by glitch-funk beats, dubby bass lines, and chiming guitars, though the song's breathy looped voices are its most memorable hook. A funereal mood pervades “Ardor” with a soft female vocal accompanied by electronic burble and raw guitar stabs, though the dreamy feel the group sustains throughout impresses most. Lugubrious too is “Hotel Roma” with its portentous lyrics (“The sky turns to fear /Inside out grows/ In torture…”) delivered by a female singer against a sparse guitar backing.

There's an episodic and, yes, fragmented quality to songs like “I Run, I Swim” but that's not necessarily a crippling defect; however, one weakness does come to the fore. “True” is marred by the male singer's weak vocal, despite the song's otherwise credible pairing of New Order bass lines and animated rock drumming. When paired with the hushed singing of the female singer on “Silent,” however, the male voice becomes more tolerable, plus the song's simmering feel is nicely augmented by Alban Bassuet's burnished trumpet and guitar interplay. On the basis of these songs, adding a male vocalist of equal caliber to the female singer would improve the band's sound, as would downplaying conventional instrumental leanings in favour of the less familiar (like the mellotron, for instance, that briefly surfaces at the beginning of “I Run, I Swim”).

March 2005