Swayzak: Loops From The Bergerie

A year ago, Funkstörung released Disconnected, a concerted attempt by Michael Fakesch and Chris De Luca to move the group beyond its Autechrean electronic style to one Fakesch characterized as a 21st-century hip-hop, IDM, rock, pop, and soul music hybrid. Unfortunately, the album proved a disappointment, with the group trading its unique sound for faceless soul, pop, rock, and rap. I wondered, then, whether Swayzak (David “Brun” Brown and James Taylor) might suffer a similar fate with its fourth album Loops From The Bergerie (the title inspired by Serge Gainsbourg's 60s soundtrack to the movie Les Loups dans la Bergerie as well as a reference to the Bergerie, a country house near Montpellier the group converted into a recording studio for the album), given that the group had decided to emphasize analog equipment from the ‘70s and early ‘80s over laptop production methods and embrace more than ever before a live analog approach.

Any fear that Swayzak might fall prey to Funkstörung's fate are laid to rest once “Keep It Coming” kicks in. In this irresistible opener, the group alternates garbled voice clusters (“Are you ready to go?” and “I'm ready to go”) with Brun's dark monotone while a pummeling base that's equal parts electro, techno, and new wave broils underneath. Following its “Psycho Killer” intro, Brun re-appears to pleadingly croon on the lurching shuffle “Snowblind” but the remaining vocal tracks are shared by Clair Dietrich, Mathilde Mallen, and Richard Davis. Mallen adds soft murmurs to the twanging guitars and fusillading drum brushes of the album's longest track, the electro-burner “8080,” and adds some French text to the spacey, exotic coda “The Long Night.” In “Another Way,” Davis's singing, sounding slightly Bowiesque (minus the White Duke's mannered theatricality), floats languidly above a techno-flavoured base of synth swirls and flares, while his filtered voice is given an industrial edge in the grinding schaffel workout “Speakeasy.” There are instrumentals too, like “Jeune Loup,” where the group drapes Fripp-like razor guitars over a clicking groove that shimmies and shakes like some animatronic belly dancer.

The album's integrated feel is partially attributable to its method of production. Rather than soliciting vocal contributions via e-mail as was done in the past, Swayzak invited the singers to the Bergerie so that the songs and the vocals developed together. Consequently, the pieces seem fully-formed and natural as opposed to sounding like backing tracks that have had vocals grafted onto them. Consider how artfully, for example, the group combines minimal bass lines, electro showers, and warm synth tones into a restrained base for Clair Dietrich's sprechgesang vocal in “Then There's Her.” Make no mistake: these are songs, not experimental soundscapes, but eminently sophisticated and finely crafted songs nonetheless. On Loops From The Bergerie, Swayzak distills its strengths into a stylistic format that seems thoroughly tailor-made for them.

October 2004