March 10, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Jan Alfaro
Good cortados, good music, good company. Where am I? Switchback’s Coffee Roasters. Overhead I hear a funky French song playing and slyly whip out Shazam on my phone (I probably wasn’t very sly). The song “Mycose” by La Femme was playing. I had already planned on writing about French music for this week’s column and was actually at the holy grail of study places in the Springs to start writing this piece; so, I thought, “perfect.”
To paint the picture, “Mycose” sounds a lot like a chiller version of The B-52’s “Rock Lobster.” Funny enough, “Rock Lobster” is a silly song about a crayfish whereas “Mycose” is also a silly song, but instead about mycosis – a fungal infection of the tissue.
There’s something a bit funnier about the latter as this upbeat French pop song filled with guitar, keyboard, and drums is about the burden one has when sick with a fungal infection. La Femme sings, “I’m scared, it itches, it burns, it hurts / It stings and scratches, oh, oh, my genital organ.”
As straightforward as it comes across to new ears, I believe it holds more poetic meaning. I think there’s this idea that someone feels disgusting because of something or someone that won’t leave, leaving one feeling like they’re suffocating and anxiety-ridden until this thing leaves them alone. I could be reading into this song more than its meaning really holds, but sometimes art is meant to be interpreted by the audience.
Then we have another French song I’ve been listening to for a bit: Iliona’s “Un autre vie.” This very dreamy, almost folk/pop tune has hushed vocals backed by a quickly strung guitar, accompanied by a soft beat.
The title translates to “another life” and another line in the song translates to, “You say we’re summer and winter / On the contrary, almost the same / When they’re the same.” Again, so poetic.
A strange juxtaposition I feel with most French songs I listen to is this lyrically darker message that’s carried out via a dreamy, soft, dance-y tune. And a lot of the time I don’t even realize the song’s somber message until I look at the full translation, which is definitely not until a while after listening to the song for the first time.
This brings me to the point that sometimes it’s nice to be able to listen to a song and just hear it for what the sounds are, not the meaning. In listening to songs of a language I don’t understand, I find that vocals are framed more instrumentally. There’s not much I can do in trying to understand the meaning of what I’m hearing verbally, so the tone of the vocals contributes more instrumentally to the song. I appreciate this as it reminds me to sometimes stop being so critical of a song’s lyrics (such as in “Mycose”, just above – I mean, I was trying to make meaning of a fungal infection… c’mon, chill out).
Continuing in running through the first few songs of the associated playlist, we again have La Femme, but this time with “Tu t’en lasses” (translation: “you get tired of it”). The song has pulsing electronic sirens and a strong clarinet solo at the end (crazy), overlaid by both hushed male and female vocals. It feels like an old television screen filled with static that you’re hauntingly stuck mindlessly watching.
In book form, this song is Haruki Murakami’s “After Dark.”Among La Femme alone, the range of French music is highlighted. “Mycose” is a beach song, whereas “Tu t’en lasses” is a song for walking down the street late at night with your headphones on. Here you might be like, “duh Jan, obviously an entire language would have music that ranges widely,” but, in my head, French music is either really sad (like Patrick Watson’s “Je te laisserai des mots”) or dance pop-like, so it’s nice to recognize the variety.
The range continues in the associated playlist, including Emma Peter’s pop/house “Gisèle,” Patrick Watson’s heartbreaking “Mélancolie,” and Yelle’s piano-driven dancehall ballad “Je t’aime encore,” so give it a peek. Until next time… au revoir.