Back in 2019, we were introduced to Bâton Bleu's Weird and Wonderful Tales and their "hybrid of styles from France, Louisiana, Mongolia, and elsewhere as David Cox wrote in his review. The France based duo of Maria Laurent and Gautier Degandt, and their quirky songs in French and English, were enchanting and sometimes disorienting.
As we approach the end of 2023, Gautier Degandt returns with a new ensemble, with all the quirkiness, and a harder edge. En Gramma ("the trace that memory left) is a trio of Degandt on lead voice, and kalimba here and there, with Oscar Philéas on guitars and chorus, and Pierre-Yves Dubois on percussion, chorus and occasional violin. Beau Brûlis (Burnt Beauty) is an adventure, a complex mixture of subtly, rawness and humor. It leans heavily on blues guitar structures, but I'll not call it blues, or rock. They call it 'trance rock,' but I am not sure if I am so much mesmerized as simply fascinated.
The album opens with a sparse drum beat and a single voice, singing of "Soleil Cassé.
I've got to see in the dark
The guitar and bass come in, equally spare, as the voices multiply. Maybe this one is that trance they speak of.
They "Tourne le page with a brief chant, then roll right into "Als Ich Can - in Greek, German and English. "I do as I can, I feel OK for dreamin'.
There is a cryptic nature to much of their music, perhaps best shown in "Alors oui!
When the air is thick and sweet and loaded with pollenIn a further nod to the strangeness of their poetry, the accompanying video is a lush and sensuous visual instruction guide for making the perfect Greek salad. Alors oui!
The logical follow up to that, and the high point of the album for me, is a pair of tunes, "J'ai mangé? and "Ne Mange Pas Ça!. Layers of voices speak, "I have eaten too much, and all our children. I ate slowly, I ate quickly, I ate a lot, I ate way too much. Then the guitar enters and falsetto voices begin the second part of the story.
Ne mange pas ça !
Throughout the album, everything remains spare, almost strict, with occasional exclamations to rattle your complacency. Beau Brûlis hovers between the electric and the acoustic. It drifts casually from language to language, sputtering one moment and flowing gently the next. It is unnerving. It is enchanting.