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Coming on like a mutation of all the wild and tempered instrumentation of the Dirty Three in full flow, the ambling and meandering yet intense desert rock of Scenic via a long and delightful trawl around the mountain tops of the Mediterranean coastline… evocative and exhilarating music that pulls you along for the ride!! although an instrumental record, this album is as joyous as some of the most rambunctious and rowdy pop albums you’re ever likely to hear.
For fans of Mdou Moctar, Dirty Three, Scenic, Captain Beefheart, Music Ehtiopiques etc// good times!
“One of us once came in with a guitar riff he’d made alone at home and asked the band to play it the way he composed it. The result was a disaster!”
Portron Portron Lopez don’t do concepts. There are no great discussions about where they should pull their influences from, or pre-planning about how to structure studio work. The Parisian-formed trio exist in spontaneity, a creative co-habitancy that relies on feel and groove – as evidenced on their three studio albums to-date. Exploratory odysseys that bely the potential pitfalls an improvisational-minded group might fall into during the recording process, they’ve moved between shades of psychedelia and Middle Eastern-inflected drones as well as more electronic and club-based touchstones, doing so in a way that feels effortlessly free. That sense of adventure is furthered still on forthcoming album Ice Cream Soufi.
“We need exploding ideas that allow us to build tracks that we can emotionally convey onstage” they say. “It's not about being a concept band, but about striking ideas that make sense. It’s not ‘our music’ we’re making - it’s transposing who we are into music.”
Portron Portron Lopez were formed in 2011 in Paris by guitarists and brothers Marceau and Valentin Portron. High school friend and drummer Lucas Lopez joined after a two-day long improvisation session in a Parisian wine bar. He left after two records – 2012’s beguilingly Beefheart-meets-Afrobeat set of tracks on Uh!, and 2015’s similarly acid-fried Moi Aussi J'ai Des Amis Qui Font Du Bruit – but his position was taken by Olivier Kelchtermans. The Belgian artist had contributed to PPL’s previous studio recordings as a saxophonist but switched to behind the kit in time for the 2016 tour dates and then the 2018 release De Colère et d'Envie’s mix of lo-fi hypnagogia and proto-punk recalling mayhem.
Ice Cream Soufi certainly doesn’t eschew all the chaos of that record, but the seven tracks that make up the group’s fourth LP lean further into their penchant for cross-pollination across globally inspired styles. Opener Comment Vas-Tu Rossignol’s roots are in western Iran and a recording Valentin made there of local musicians playing in the ethnographic museum of Sanadaj. The material served as inspiration for the resulting track, which leans on Kurdish folk style and structure while the trio whip themselves into a sense of frenzy around it.
Elsewhere, third track A Stranger I May Be came out of several improvisations based around the group’s goal of “getting to a country-techno song” – an on-paper incongruous mix that makes a hell of a lot of sense when listened to. It’s unwavering kick drum drives through the group’s duelling guitars and unburdened vocal shrieks, supplemented by musician and comedian Charly Fournier who adds a touch of knowing absurdity to proceedings.
Those two tracks bookend Pensée Sans Tête, which was improvised and demoed in April 2019 during a rehearsal, before being taken to an old barn in Normandie the following year to flesh out. The track’s repeato-riffs gradually spin quicker and quicker as the group underpin it vocally and with rolling percussion.
Arguably the centre piece of the record, though, is Aubes – an 11-minute-long opus of cacophonic drones that gather and bustle for space amidst each other, a line of tension pulled tight through them. It’s a stirring midpoint that encourages the listener’s mind to pick its own sonic adventure within the different shades of sound.
“At first, the original concept of the album was to put three straight rock songs in and a 23-minute drone” the band comment. “But the result was not satisfying”.
Instead, they cut half the drone and added a few overdubs. Valentin added some recordings he’d made during a trip to Iranian Kurdistan where he’d seen Farzad Memar - the uncle of ambient composer Porya Hatami - playing duduk. He also mixed in some Târ playing by his beloved Persian friend Mostafa Heydarian.
“The initial idea of three songs and one drone was boring because it was a rational concept” they say. “All of a sudden, a new album started to take shape in front of us, as a rosebud growing under our very touched eyes. It was a beautiful surprise.”
Aubes’ peak allows the two following tracks to giddily scramble down the other side of the record, with Fin De Partie perhaps the most garage rock-inspired track on the album, its rawness the result of a direct lift from the outro of a live set that took place in a small basement in Bordeaux. Tayau rounds things out, a short two-minute finale recorded at home on Marceau’s phone in his bedroom.
Recorded across six different locations over a period of 20 months, sessions saw the trio set up everywhere, from various rehearsal studios to band members respective homes, a large church in Sète and an old barn in Normandie. The three group members are now spread out across Paris, Corrèze in the central west of France and Sète on its south coast. All that meant, though, was that the sessions for the album took on even more of an improvisatory vibe as they sought to make the most of their increasingly limited time together.
“One of the greatest achievements of these sessions was being able to put up an album that is like a house with lots of different rooms” they say. “You never want to stick in the main hall when you're visiting someone, and that's the feeling you may have when listening to a record fully recorded and mixed in the same place and time. For us, the live nature of the tracks and the different moods they take on make it feel more like a journey through us.”
And beyond the feeling of it, nothing else matters.
01 Comment Vas-Tu Rossignol
02 Pensées Sans Tête
03 A Stranger I May Be
04 Trois-Cent-Dix-Huit Poussettes
02 Fin De Partie
Dinked Edition Bonus 7”
A: Train Bluc
13 TRACK BONUS CD IN SLEEVE
A Bakers Dozen: PPL Primer.
2: SOL MAMMOUTH
4: VELVET TARGUI
5: UNE BARQUE SUR L'OCEAN
7: ADIOS JUAN NAVIDAD
8: BICHETTE II
9: EVERYBODY'S GOT A NUMBER IN THE NECK (LIVE)
10 LA CHAUVE SOURIS (LIVE)
12 TRAIN BLUC