Various Artists: So Frenchy So Chic 2011 (Border)

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Various Artists: So Frenchy So Chic 2011 (Border)

These annual double CD compilations of recent music from France -- from pop to, yes, chic, but not alt.rock etc -- are the unofficial soundtrack to the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival (details here) but afford us the opportunity of hearing a swag of music from a country with a reputation of making the most awful pop. At least that's what the British would tell you.

Of course it has never been quite that simple -- incidentally off on the periphery in the rock world have been terrific bands like Zebda, the Belgian singer Arno, hip-hop acts like rapper MC Solaar who you can't possibly understand unless you know idiomatic French -- and these collections always throw up interesting stuff.

Among the familiar names in Elsewhere-world are Melanie Pain, Keren Ann, Syd Matters, Nouvelle Vague, Yael Naim and so on -- but it's always the others: Madjo do a neat line in light techno-pop on Another Day (not the McCartney song); you'll spot who Fefe is ripping off/referencing on the pretty cool Dans ma rue; Zaz takes you back to the boulevards of the Forties; Anis bring in the North African tub-thump beats for Rodeo Blvd; and Asa get all sexy-chic in English on Be My Man.

In fact, as always, there's a fair bit of English here: Lilly Wood and the Prick would sit neatly on your playlist alongside Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Rumer and others, The Rodeo kick in with alt.rock with On the Radio (imagine a female Stan Ridgway) . . .

Not a lot of the North African-influenced French pop/rock here and band names (eg The Narcoleptic Dancers) aren't remotely helpful (they are light pop, could be on the NZ label Lil' Chief).

But, as always, wee nuggets here and there among the background chic-cool sounds.

This series doesn't stray too far from its narrow brief and you suspect it might attract more attention now if it got much more risky. Or as they en France, risque. 

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