Je Suis France
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Je Suis France

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The best kept secret in music

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Whatever it is that Je Suis France does, they sure have a lot of fun doing it. After two full-length albums that seemed to run short on ideas, the newest offering from this nine-piece band, African Majik,continues on its course unabated. Maybe it's the third time around that's charming, but this record is much better than it really ought to be. Their confidence has something to do with the turnaround: opening with a 16-minute instrumental isn't standard with upbeat guitar rock outfits, nor is the casual way they segue from punchy 3-minute pop numbers to spacey 7-8 minute odes. Though ties to Athens, GA might account for the penchant for a pop-rock epic, the France boys don't stop there: they add just enough reggae bounce and glam posturing (think a non-political Clash) to prevent any comparisons to the safe numbness of the Elephant 6 alumni. What makes this record uncommonly good, turns out to be a distinct lack, even outright avoidance, of complexity. Where other
forays by pop bands into the epic tend to be oblique, obsessive ciphers, the bright rock riffs from Je Suis France are straight-as-nails direct. Lyrics are joyfully blunt and filled with absurd errata like name-checking of unknown persons, straight-faced slang and squeaky-clean swear substitutes --with a good measure of real profanity thrown in. Vocal and guitar lines are double-dubbed to bolster the piercing enthusiasm (no harmonies to be found), and the upper gains are maxed out even more to burn that brightness into the tape decks even more. The drum, bass and keyboard follow like a Krautrock rhythm section, steady-repping the drum kit without fills and using keyboard chords rhythmically to topload even the basic beats. Over long instrumental stretches, the band manages to be upbeat without being twee. And even when they're indulging in kitschy space effects, the tone hardly seems ironic, and their sincerity will draw you in before the first few tracks slip by.
-- Joel Calahan - Signal To Noise


It’s hard to believe how good this band turned out to be. Je Suis France started as a joke, and a joke it remains. But it’s nuts how complicated and captivating the joke has become, and how flexible and adept these guys are in their particular comic medium.

Picture a bunch of guys at a large Southern university. They give each other cheesy nicknames. They get together as a large group and engage in self-conscious social rituals that are basically excuses to drink a lot in each other’s company. They end up starting a band, as if by accident: a synthesis of peppy late-‘90s indie rock, Trans Am-inspired prank-prog, Ween-ish script-flipping and a particularly Athenian diffidence. They play a few sloppy-ass shows. Sometimes, members of “working” bands get on stage with them, or pass through their lineup, but the whole thing is never much more than an excuse to get drunk.

At some point, whether by accident, design or inertia, they become something akin to an actual band. Although they still rely on counterintuitive cover songs for crowd-moving purposes, they write some good songs of their own. They practice. They put out a debut record that’s unpretentious and fun, but nevertheless reflective of a certain humble sincerity and ambition. They tour behind it. They get better and better. They continue to share bills with the bands they once opened for as little more than comic relief… and, on hot nights, they blow these bands away.

Everyone graduates. Some carve out adult lives in their college town. Some follow their professional aspirations elsewhere. One guy moves to Boston. Another guy moves to California. They keep the band alive, at least in name, unable to let such a high-quality joke go. Since it was always a joke, they’re never too bitter about anything that didn’t happen right away. Je Suis France has never been predominantly goal-oriented.

Nevertheless, this band will not die. Behind the drunken antics and fundamental inability to do anything in full-blown earnest, there’s something driving these fellows to keep practicing, keep touring and keep improving. They used to end up at the same basements and backyards without much calculation; now they travel cross-country to play and record. But they keep doing it. They put out records, each a rung up from the previous. They get a national rep. They play with some of the most esteemed names in neo-prog, including Oneida and Acid Mothers Temple. Their erstwhile contemporaries fade away. Somehow, they keep going. You couldn’t be blamed for, at one time, thinking that maybe they didn’t have it in them. It hardly seems fair somehow.

And yet, 10 years on, Je Suis France has dropped the strongest, strangest, most habit-forming record of its career. Afrikan Majik is an hour-long coup de grâce. It’s a classic straight out of an era that’s probably over by now anyway, but it’s also aesthetically rootless enough to fit in anywhere in time or space. For any humble party dudes who wonder if their humble party band is a waste of time, Je Suis France has much to teach, even if, after this record, the members can safely address y’all as “son.” The festivities commence with “Sufficiently Breakfast,” a mix of controlled Can-style buildup and the band’s trademark “hammjammin’” abandon. This one goes on for 16 minutes. It’s so tight and cathartic, it almost doesn’t matter whether the rest of the album is worth a damn or not.

It’s just the warmup, as it happens. Je Suis France’s self-deprecating humor allows it to be absurdly “epic” and remain thoroughly charming, and the France folks aren't shy about using that privilege. “Whalebone” and “Wizard of Points,” in their simultaneously satirical and functional bastardization of prog’s “cinematic” conventions, both clock in at eight minutes plus. So does “Feeder Band,” an ominous wall of pure digital ambience. All four of the aforementioned jams wear themselves out without ever weakening. Deejays, light your cigarettes.

But when Je Suis France stays true to its indie-rock, house-party, less-is-easier origins, it can sometimes be even more compelling. “Virtual Heck” and “Chemical Agents” mix multiple hooks and good-natured lyrical pessimism like the finest cuts from Superchunk or Archers of Loaf. “That Don’t Work That Well For Us” is a song the band has kicked around for years now (a variation on its pet theme, which is basically, “don’t fuck with the France”), which here becomes rich, deep, cryptic guitar pop (even as its lyrics, upon inspection, still make Bon Scott sound like Heidegger). And “The Love of the France” serves to remind, out of absolutely nowhere, why a lot of people still love things like spring rain showers and that first Stone Roses record.

How to end such an album as Afrikan Majik? How about a slab of intensely ridiculous dub reggae, with lyrics about flying monkeys, the joys of fucking off at work and the superfluousness of footwear? Behold “Never Gonna Touch the Ground.” And prepare to take J - Flagpole


So many bad things have been done to Africa over the years that this album cover just seems like piling on. My colleague Rob Mitchum remarked that Lupe Fiasco and his astral appliances must be floating just out of the frame. Garish as it is, with its NES Power Glove, laser-eyed bear, a dude eating a massive cheeseburger, and a beer cooler crushing Madagascar, the cover art is actually sort of a reflection of the record. There are, like, 50 guys in this band (actually just nine, but it seems like 50 sometimes), and the songs are stuffed with objects in motion bound together only by grooves that suggest large collections of LPs from 1970s Germany.

If your average stoner jam band had ambition, this is the type of sound it might reach for-- a bit heady, suggestive of hallucinogenic chemicals, all over the stylistic map, and too long in several spots. An overabundance of length is perhaps the album's weakest point, in fact. It's over an hour long where a more traditional LP length might've been a better fit for the material. They don't hold back on giving you the extended jams, either: Opener "Sufficiently Breakfast" is a 16-minute instrumental. The bassline is a little bit Boredoms, a little bit Neu!, and the drums smack along deeply in the pocket. After about two minutes, the guitars come in, and the next five minutes are a blur of awesome astral jamming. It reaches a point of excess toward the end, but concludes marvelously with a return to the original groove.

A couple of tracks indicate that these guys could be a pretty formidable indie pop band if they chose to focus in that direction. "That Don't Work That Well For Us" turns the mob-speak of its chorus into a catchy hook by placing it over the last kind of drum beat you'd expect in a peppy, up-beat pop tune. "The Love of the France" is even better-- it has this 80s Creation Records vibe to it, with the lightly filtered, fey vocals, and acoustic guitar high in the otherwise electric mix. It's like something the older college-aged sibling would've mixtaped for the younger high school-aged sibling back home in 1990, and it snuck up on me to become my favorite moment on the album.

The album is such a widely mixed bag that it's tough to find a central thread to talk about. "Whalebone" is an eight-minute slice of cosmic krautrock, "California Still Rules" and "101 Miles and Runnin'" are good psychedelic hard rock with strong group vocals, "Feeder Band" is a long, New Age-y twiddle that for some reason reminds me of the old Simpsons Halloween episode where Homer falls into the third dimension. It doesn't all work, as one might imagine. "Digital Shrimp" is a bleepy, boring drag, and "Wizard of Points" starts out cool with heavy drums and crazy vocoder but drags it out too far. By far the least forgivable song is the last one, though. "Never Gonna Touch the Ground" is a leaden, even insulting ersatz reggae track complete with embarrassing fake Jamaican accents-- even the way it's listed on the back cover makes it look tacked on.

You might've noticed a lot of compound adjectives up there, and it's simply because there is no easy, direct way to describe what this band does. If they can decide what kind of band they want to be, or at least more fully unify their disparate elements, they'll be a force to reckon with. As it is, there are a handful of pretty awesome tracks on the album, and it's well worth checking out for people who like their rock with a touch of adventure.

-Joe Tangari, May 25, 2007
- Pitchfork


Je Suis France claim to have nothing to do with France, the country.

"But doesn't Je Suis France translate to 'I am France'?", you ask.

Well, yes, but it's not that simple. Je Suis France is a rallying cry, a chant, a call to arms, an overblown declaration. Je Suis France's music is all of those things. The band march forth possessed with the kind of vigor that spawns revolutions. In 2000 they released their eponymous debut on Dave Lowery's (of Camper van Beethoven) Pitch-a-Tent label. Like Camper, it was a noisy pastiche of instrumentals, cut-up in-jokes and lo-fi wall-of-fuzz whose cocksure vibe belied the fact that these guys were basically an Athens, Georgia college band that blew out a few house parties in their day. You know, like Hootie and the Blowfish was before...

The past 18 months have seen an EP on DCBaltimore2012, which made Splendid's coveted, unpublished year-end run down of albums we like that isn't a Best Of list in 2002, a full length (Fantastic Area) on Orange Twin that expanded their sound and range of styles, and a pair of self-released CD-R offerings that, despite a broken CD burner, are surely on the way. A third full length is due some time between this Fall and 2007, depending on who you ask.

I spoke with Ryan Martin and DJ Hammond (from this point onward known only as Darkness and DJ) a couple of weeks ago, on the heels of Twilight Delirium V, their annual festival of bike racing and debauchery. They were kind enough to give us their longest interview to date and filled us in on the band's relationship with France, the country, their plans to record until their seventies and why instrumentals are just as good.
· · · · · · ·

Splendid: Je Suis France recently headlined their annual Twilight Delirium V. What is it?

Darkness: There's a professional bicycle race that runs through downtown Athens every year on the last Saturday of April. It's called the Twilight Criterium, and they've been doing it for the last 25 years. It's a big deal in Athens; thousands of people gather downtown to drink and watch the cyclists crash into each other.

DJ: That night in Athens is known for its drinking of beer, at least by us, so all of our friends had fun downtown then made our way to this house show and played a fucking fun show, probably one of craziest we have played. At one point during our last song, I handed over my instrument to someone in the crowd and headed to get a beer, I looked up and Darkness was standing next to me in line and the song was still going strong. We embraced.

Darkness: The show wound up being probably the best show we ever played, or at least the most fun we ever had playing. We have a copy of the show and it was actually pretty terrible musically. It was a lot of fun, though, and so we decided to start playing a show after the race every year.

DJ: That was actually also our first show with drummer Jeff Griggs. He had played with the Masters of the Hemisphere before then and we had played as a pretty crappy four-piece before, so we put the two together. We actually have a live recording from that day that we call "The Bible". The sound quality is shit, but has one of the first live versions of "Memorial Day" which we treasure. We actually put that song on our God's Cake EP.
AUDIO: Memorial Day

Splendid: How is Twilight Delirium significant to the band?

DJ: It is our reason for living. It is a holy time. Now the Delirium has become this yearly event that goes hand in hand with the bike race. For the past few years The France has decided to play a considerable amount of bizarre covers during this show which makes it fun and interesting. However, we don't have a filter when it comes to good or bad covers, so we can go from playing "Spacetruckin" by Deep Purple or "Outdoor Miner" by Wire to "I Love LA" by Randy Newman and "Ignition" by R Kelly. I think one year we even played "Sabotage" so it's obviously a zany evening. For the past three years we have had it at a club instead of a house due to its size and we try to invite a very diverse bunch of bands to play with us.

Splendid: Any outrageous stories you can share from this year's incarnation?

DJ: This year was The France, the Summer Hymns, Triple Velcro (amazing raunch stand up humor), King Shit and the Golden Boys (a GBV tribute we threw together) played. Loud music and a fair share of crazed fans. This year was the best by far. We have reworked one of our old songs, "I Can't Believe It I Can Fly", into this reggae styled song that the crowd just loves. It's called "Still Flyin'" and has a sing along chorus. Well, in-between every song, the crowd sang the chorus over and over...it was amazing. Ice also got yanked into the crowd during "Ice Age" and we looked out and he was crowd surfing on his back, still singing the song all throughout the crowd. The people were going crazy and tearing his clothes. He was thrust back onto the stage just as we kicked into the song again. We were also - Splendid E-zine


It takes a certain kind of bravado to start an album with a 16-minute, almost entirely instrumental track… bravado, or orneriness. And, clearly, Athens, Georgia’s Je Suis France has a fair helping of both. For ten years they’ve made homemade tour CD-Rs and slightly better-produced full-lengths that sound exactly like they want them to. If that sound incorporates abrupt genre shifts, jokester lyrics, crowd noises, and people audibly slurping down beer, well, that’s the France.

Yet somewhere along the way, this ramshackle collective has accumulated the skills to make an extended psych-rock odyssey like “Sufficiently Breakfast” work, and not just work, but also bridge the gap between outsider enthusiasm and a decade’s worth of musical skill and collaboration. Like a lot of what Je Suis France does, the cut started as a goof and ended up a triumph.

“We’d had that song forever. We played it live. We recorded it, but we never quite got it right,” says DJ Hammond, who plays guitar and other instruments in the band. “So we went into the studio one day and we were like, ‘All right. Let’s do this.’ We put a clock up and we decided that we were not stopping until we at least got to the 15-minute point. And it just… it worked.”

The track became a pummeling juggernaut of two-man drumming, wah wah guitars, and psychedelic keyboards. “The song had had all these different forms, but the day that we sat down to record it, it was just… I hate to sound trite, but it was magical,” Hammond continues. “We were so excited because it was sounding perfect. I mean, I think there’s one mess-up in it somewhere, but in our eyes it was perfect. When we finished it, we were like, ‘This is it.’ We were so happy about how it turned out. So we decided to put it up front.”

Spilled Beer and House Parties

Je Suis France’s eclecticism may come, in part, from the fact that its members all met at WUOG, the college radio station for the University of Georgia. A shared love for standard indie bands like Archers of Loaf and Polvo, as well as non-standard world and funk, drew the original four members together—Hammond, Ryan Bergeron (Ice), Ryan Martin (Darkness), and Chris Rogers (Croge). Talking about music turned to playing music, which led, rather quickly, to playing shows.

“The first show that the France ever played, ever, was at this place called Buckhead Beach, which was an old video game warehouse where somebody had bought it and stored all these old games in there,” Hammond recalled. “Basically, a friend of ours snuck in there and set up a place to play, and they used to have regular house shows there. So I think the first couple of France shows we played were just all at places like that. Just because we sucked at our instruments and we just thought it would be cool to play with the 25 friends of ours who were drinking beers.”

“I don’t think we actually got a club show until the fourth year we were playing together,” said Hammond. “It was always at our friends’ houses. We’d just go in and blow it out. We actually recorded a couple of these shows. It’s some of the funniest stuff you’ll hear ever, on recording, because it’s literally the sound of people talking over and drinking beer over a band in the background playing.”

And while Je Suis France now plays regularly in actual clubs, they haven’t drifted far from their house party roots. This year, as always, they’re playing “Twilight Delerium”, an unofficial sidebar to the “Twilight Criterium” bike race that Athens put on every year. “As soon as the last bike race was over, about 9:30, we all jump on our bikes and ride straight over to the house we were having the party at,” Hammond said.

Anything Goes

The band has become modestly more professional over the years, drawing more members from Athens’ heavily cross-referenced musical scene, including Jeff Griggs and Sean Rawls from Masters of the Hemisphere, Jeremy Wheatley from the Low Lows, and John Croxton of the Wee Turtles. They have put out a steady stream of CD-Rs, which the band sells on tour, as well as four full-length albums (on four different labels). Their latest, Afrikan Majik, is an exuberant hodge-podge of styles and sounds—and quite clearly the band’s most professional effort yet. Still, Hammond bridled at the term “polished”, saying “If you heard the songs that got cut from the record at the last minute, that almost made it, you definitely would not think we were polished at all.” He added, “We’ve never been a band that’s about being pretentious or wondering what other people would think about our music. It’s pretty much anything goes.”

Indeed, alongside extended psych epics like “Sufficiently Breakfast” and “Whalebone”, the band slips in almost-indie-pop songs like “That Don’t Work That Well for Us”, robot-friendly techno (“Digital Shrimp”), electro-soundscapes (“Feeder Band”), and even a reggae song.

This cut, “Never Gonna Touch the Ground”, is actually part - Popmatters


Kicking off with an euphoric bassline that gets yer head a-nodding, Je Suis France take no prisoners on the 16 minute cosmic romp “Sufficiently Breakfast” that opens this sprawling and delightful album. Sounding like Julian Cope jamming with Hapshash, the piece has heavy guitars, electronic squalls, and thumping percussion a-plenty, all adding to a freakout of the highest order. After such a storming opener it would be easy for the band to fall short of the mark on the following tracks. Have no fear though, “Virtual Heck” is A short blast of Garage Flaming Lips, “Whalebone” is a hypnotic synth workout that reminds me of Todd Rundgren around the time of “A Wizard A True Star”, whilst “That Don’t Work For Us” has a classic Pavement feel in it’s pop grooves.



Featuring nine musicians playing everything including the kitchen sink, there is plenty of room for improvisation on such tracks as the frantic electronic rush of “Wizard of Points”, as well as moments of plain weirdness such as the excellently named “Digital Shrimp”.



There is a classic eighties psych feel to “101 Miles and Runnin’” with a punk guitar riff and reverb vocals driving the song forward and making you realise how good these guys must be live, judging by the amount of energy they exude on this CD. In fact, it is this exuberance and we don’t take ourselves too seriously attitude that really makes this album shine, allowing them to tackle the garage hoe-down of “Chemical Agents” with the same amount of enjoyment as the electronic synth drone of “Feeder Band”, a track that sounds like it was recorded underwater. Never shy of experimentation “California still Rules” has a dub heart intermingled with it’s guitar noise, whilst the final, not so hidden track “Never Gonna Touch The Ground” takes the dub ideas and becomes a gloriously deranged reggae workout as performed by a bunch of weirdos, just perfect.



Possibly not the greatest album ever made but full of energy, fun and happiness. Just right for that summer barbecue, invite your friends and have a blast. (Simon Lewis) - Terrascope Online


Discography

Afrikan Majik LP (Antenna Farm Records 2007)
Fantastic Area LP (Orange Twin 2003)
Ice Age EP (DCBaltimore 2002)
Je Suis France LP (Pitch-a-Tent 2000)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

The roots of Je Suis France date to the late 90s, when DJ Hammond and (aka OJ) and Ryan Martin (aka the Darkness) moved to Athens, GA and decided to put together a band. Inspired by friends in the Masters of the Hemisphere, they recruited an early incarnation of the band amongst friends at the UGA radio station. With members OJ, the Darkness, Chris Rogers (aka Crog) and Ryan Bergeron (aka Ice), the France was up and running.

The band began gigging in Athens and quickly earned a reputation for their entertaining and unpredictable live shows. While sonic comparisons to classic indie rock like Pavement abounded, the band courted a level of absurdity and whimsy that set it apart. Soon Je Suis France was recording its self-titled first album for David Lowerys (of Camper Van Beethoven) Pitch-a-Tent label.

With the addition of drummer Jeff Griggs (formerly of the Masters of the Hemisphere) in 1999, however, things really started to gel for the France. JSF began gigging a lot and became a faily well known entity in Athens. The band then added Sean Rawls (aka SA, also of the Masters of the Hemisphere and later of San Franciscos Still Flyin) and recorded their second album Fantastic Area for Orange Twin Records.

As the France began recording their third full length album, they gradually added three more members. First was second drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Wheatley (aka the Lord, of the Low Lows and Parker & Lily) then Jon Croxton (Flip Scoldjah and the Wee Turtles) and keyboardist Ken Henslee (aka the Tinkler). Je Suis France was now a 9 person collective and their musical vision was quickly widening.

The result is Afrikan Majik, a sprawling 12 song arc that captures Je Suis France at the pinnacle of their powers. Raging, 10+ minute krautrock jams lead into short garagey nuggets that bring to mind Here Come the Warm Jets played by Superchunk. And while such a description might suggest an air of crippling pretension, the bands mission is anything but.