Nôze come lurching in to the big time with their debut album release on Get Physical and it’s a cocktail of slurred vocals, jolly pianos, sloppy rhythms and maudlin sentiment. In contrast to the prevailing spring break/frat party vibe of maximal music in 2008 or the cultural studies seminar of ‘serious techno’, this album is like you, your friends, some tequila shots and the back room of a pub.
Musically the main inspiration seems to be European folk music, particularly the raucous Balkan variety and an emphasis on genuine instruments (or synthesized approximations of the same) creating loose, easy grooves.
And that looseness is one of the two things that makes Songs on the Rocks so great. This stuff is just easy to dance to because the rhythms feel human and natural not tight and constricted – the beats are somewhat backgrounded instead of imposing themselves on the songs so tracks like ‘Danse Avec Moi’ are perfect for gently bobbing around, beer in hand, as well as more committed dancefloor perambulations. Even more stripped-down beaty instrumentals like ‘Ethiopo’ have woozy brass or off-time strings to move them away from a strict rigidity into something more informal.
Have you ever danced in pajamas? That’s how Nôze feels.
The second thing that makes this great are the vocals. There’s a touch of Gilbert Becaud in the confident moments and more than a little Shane McGowan in the growly emotional ones. It sounds like nothing else around today and means that this is an album that sits quite happily on iPods as well as club systems. Then the lyrics themselves are noteworthy – a mixture of English and French that feels utterly natural for today’s polylingual EU. The songs all focus on bringing to life characters and situations like ‘Slum Girl’s rose seller, or ‘L’inconnu du placard’s Uncle Charlie which give them a fantastical hallucinatory quality.
On the negative side more than a few people are going to find the oompah-oompah groove of songs like ‘Little Bug’ erring too far on the side of cheese. But if like Uncle Charlie you wake up in the morning and have a glass of wine it’s unlikely you’ll feel that way.
Songs on the Rocks is genuinely that reviewer cliché – “a breath of fresh air” (although perhaps “a breath of smoky whisky-flavoured air” might be more accurate). There’s a distinctive and well-realised vision here and it’s a vision that’s both original and more importantly incredibly fun. I’ve got no doubt that Noze’s piano sound, best known on ‘Remember Love’, will soon get ripped off ad nauseam by far lesser artists but that’s just the surface sheen. The ideas that lie below the execution are what makes this shine out as something special.
The album also contains a new contender for anthem status, and a worthy successor to ‘Remember Love’ in ‘You Have to Dance’ (which M.A.N.D.Y. are already closing their sets with). It has a whistles, a reggae-like offbeat stab and most importantly the lyric “You have to dance, you have to dance, you have to dance on this and think about your death / you have to drink, you have to drink, you have to drink all night to remember that you’re alive’. And if that’s not a statement of intent I don’t know what is…
There’s justifiable buzz around this and a strong chance that it will cross over to a more general audience. And even if it doesn’t, everyone should have a place in their collection for an album that straddles pop and techno and that can get the (house) party started even if your guests normally hate electronic music.