I got a taste for French music living in Belgium almost ten years ago. Before living in francophile Brussels, I had formed, in my adolescent mind, a world populated by languorous women with a detached air of cultured sensuality, whispering an unending stream of soft slurred vowels running over each other like waves on a soft beach. The sound of French does not posses the cut and thrust of English, where the profane and the sexual are cleaved into the puritan and the lustful. In French, every act is a sensual act.
But they never tell you how difficult it is to explore the musical landscape of another language. Indeed, I had forgotten my own experience as a unmanned adolescent trying to get to grips with the mysteries of the Top 40 and other such things. Figuring out the landscape of the music of someone else’s culture is just as hard. Although I could understand the finer distinctions between grunge, metal and indie rock, this did not help me negotiate the differences between nouvelle chanson, les rocks, eurovision, and star academy.
The classics are easy to find, colossal singers etched in good Parisian sandstone such as Edith Piaf and Jacques Brels. But I was more interested in French artists who are still alive. Singers who I may have a chance to see in person, to watch their bodies sway through the cigarette smoke as their voice purrs through cracked-out speakers in a dank hall in park slope. Of course, you say, I could just ask someone. But it’s not that easy. It’s hard enough finding people who like the same stuff as you in your own language. But in another language you have to get over the double barrier of meeting someone who can translate and who also shares your taste.
Over the years, I’ve managed to scrape together a small but durable list of great french singers, but I am always on the lookout for more. My prayers were finally answered when I recently stumbled onto a treasure trove of french music, a music blog called Filles Sourires. Their tagline “Fragile girls. Gainsbourgian guys. Singing in French. Making me sigh. Any questions?” That’s certainly an aesthetic I could buy into.
Most useful was that “Filles Sourrires” recently asked their regular contributions for their top 10 lists of French albums released in the last ten years. This list of 100 albums (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10) provides a comprehensive survey of the terrain of modern french music. I am gratified to see that many of my favorites are here, but there are also many that I have not heard off. For these of you who are Franco-curious, I suggest that you check these out. Do not be surprised if you have a sudden urge to buy a beret and a book a one-way ticket to Paris.