Pascal Comelade: A Freak Serenade

In the 25 years since his first album, ‘Fluence’, Catalan auteur Pascal Comelade hasn’t compromised his music or his vision. There’s no courting the mainstream. He’s still fond of toy instruments. Integral to the fabric of France’s music, he steers the overt experimentalism of Jac Berrocal towards the friendlier end of Yann Tiersen. The all-instrumental ‘A Freak Serenade’ – his second non-comp album for Because – is more straightforward than he can be: there’re no one-minute versions of The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’. Cast as a recital, ‘A Freak Serenade’ is a programme that unfolds like a show. And if the wonderful drawings by Dupuy Berberian (the creators of M. Jean) are taken at face value, the show would be for two-headed cat-dog hybrids, little devils, two-headed women and a Coffin Joe lookalike. Comelade plays his guitar upon a three-headed horse. 

Comelade is invariably cast as an outsider musician, a sort of naïf that cannot help but be weird. His rare live appearances help foster this view, but the music itself is hardly inaccessible and he’s a master of elegiac melody and unsettling mood. It’s just that he chooses to make his music with instruments that aren’t the norm: the musical saw and toy piano are favourites. ‘Strip-Tease De Mosque En Patinet’ showcases the musical percolator, with Comelade making bubbly Eraserhead baby noises through water.
The title track opens with fairground noise and a squall of pipe organ that gives way to a trumpet-led melody and mid-tempo waltz rhythm of such mournfulness that you know this sideshow is threadbare, pathos-filled. The treated guitar surfing over the top wouldn’t have been out of place on Eno’s ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’. Mood set, ‘The Return of Lux Interior the Magician’ could soundtrack a slowed-down strip-tease with wobbly saw, clarinet and accordion. ‘Two Maniaco-Depressive Beatnicks Squabbling over a Jane Russell Mozzarella’s Stereokini’ (whatever that means) is the marriage of parping sax and toy piano texture that accompanies plate spinning. This music invariably conjures visuals. Then there’s a take on the MC5’s version of ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ that sounds like kids’ plastic guitars battling with toy pianos and a cheapo miniature sax – which is actually what it is. Whatever the means and medium, ‘A Freak Serenade’ is a joy throughout, a fantastic ride through a fantastically fertile mind.
© Kieron Tyler 2010