Music Reviews
Fake French

El Guapo Fake French

(Dischord) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

With the release of yet another album that wears its hip 80s influences so boldly, you can almost hear Dischord pleading that yes, there has always been a synthetic, art-punk concept aspect to our label. However, they did sign the hippest band in America a good few years ago in the incendiary Nation of Ulysses, and so we can overlook the fact that, for such a morally righteous organisation, they are releasing an album that exudes a more superficial, consumerist feel of disposability than P. Diddy dancing the lambada in gold lurex pyjamas.

El Guapo take their cues from the edgy, stop-start jerk-pop of Devo and Gang of Four, as we see in the highly regimented nonsense chants of the fine Glass House ('Wings of death! Wings of death! Beyond wings of death!'). Elsewhere, their cultural plunder includes the wholesale thievery of the bassline to Donna Summer's I Feel Love (Just Don't Know) and the sinister waltzes of Tom Waits (I Don't Care); their cited influences stretch from Kraftwerk (which is loosely evident), to Suicide (can't see it myself) and Afrika Bambaataa (and God only knows what they think they took from him, apart from maybe a 'release everything/anything' aesthetic). However, I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea: I like El Guapo, and False French isn't a bad album; it's just that it would've made a fantastic mini-album rather than a pretty good full length offering.

There's lots of late-night electro edginess and drum majorette fills (especially on the rigid chant of Ocean and Sky), and the dirty synth dirge of Underground could've sound-tracked the unearthing of evil organisations in any number of bad 80s thrillers (that's far from being a criticism, by the way). Aside from Glass House, the real highlight of the album is Justin Destroyer, which is an unyieldingly mighty theme tune so toweringly grandiose you'll be pondering your attachment to your Christian name (unless you're...erm...actually called Justin, of course); the mock heroic exaltations have the slightly demented tone of two David Byrne's battling it out over an urgent, pounding bass throb. The long shadow of omnipresent indie godhead Calvin Johnson falls over a few tracks (including the monotonous Space Tourist), and there's plenty of call-and-response playfulness to balance out the detached and mechanistic delivery. There's also a high-energy funk/punk spasm the wonderfully throwaway Pick It Up, a tempo raising exercise that is a welcome kick up the arse at the album's close.

Dischord state that El Guapo's sound initially shocked, but unless you were in a coma during the late 70s/80s New Wave outbreak I doubt you'll be too surprised by anything on here. New Wave's heavy emphasis on style above all else is evident throughout Fake French. It's music that discourages an emotional interaction between song and listener (to quote Hollywood Crew, they are 'choosing what the world will see'); the focus is fixed firmly on dynamism and movement; its shallow veneer can be tried on or discarded easily, and thus shares as much with fashion and design as with contemporary pop; El Guapo purposefully seek to keep their audience at a distance. This is no bad thing, and this is no bad album, but if you're making music that is all surface, it's important to assert a unique vision strongly enough to keep people listening. There are an EP's worth of good (if not great) songs on here (namely Glass House, Justin Destroyer, Pick It Up, The Time: Night and Ocean and Sky), and an equal amount of songs that are, to be honest, b-sides; that is, likeable, but nothing that will stop you in your tracks (see Hawks and the uninspired Space Tourist). Still, despite the uneven quality level, there will be plenty of times when you realise that you've been unconsciously nodding your head for the last two minutes, and this kind of detached, cerebral pop is always going to exude a sense of knowing cool. Given that, after numerous false starts, the 80s is currently undergoing a major critical reappraisal, perhaps El Guapo can tailgate their way into contention.