Nlf3: Beautiful Is the Way to the World Beyond

Among France’s most enduringly idiosyncratic labels is Prohibited Records which, from the mid-90s, was the home a group called Prohibition made for themselves. In 2000, that group mutated into Nlf3. The press release for ‘Beautiful is the Way to the World Beyond’ describes Prohibition as ‘punk rock’ but the pensive moods and odd chords placed Prohibition in a place where hardcore tips over into post-rock. Nlf3 picked up from there, developing more textural, groove-based work on albums like 2003’s ‘Viva!’ and on their soundtrack to Eisenstein’s nearly-complete ‘Que Viva Mexico!’. Their vocabulary was undoubtedly broadening, drawing in Krautrock and Afrobeat, but the slightly ascetic atmosphere of their recordings was finally dispelled by the revelatory ‘Echotropic’ EP, with its deliciously fat, smeared textures and pounding drums, and the subsequent ‘Ride on a Brand New Time’ album. Prohibited became uninhibited.
This album picks up where its predecessor left off, with more wordless chants (the opener is actually called ‘Wild Chants’) and gambolling rhythms, and the tracks all teem with delightful details, like the amplified kalimba that crops up on several occasions, analogue synth squiggles and bright, often Afro-tinged melodies. It’s difficult to pick any favourites; at the time of writing, the loping, hip-hop like groove and sucked-backward acoustics of ‘Straight Forward’ and pulsing electronic bass on ‘The Lost Racer’ seem like stand-out features, but further listening will undoubtedly reveal alternative highlights.
As a whole, though, ‘Beautiful is the Way to the World Beyond’ puts Nlf3 somewhere between the Fourth World trance-dance of Gang Gang Dance and post-motorik period Stereolab, and they don’t suffer from either comparison. It also marks them out as one of the most thrillingly liberated groups in France.
David McKenna