Cercueil: Eurostrate

One of the most positive things about this Lille-based trio (Nico and singer Pénélope are the founders but were joined by drummer Olivier before the first album proper 'Shoo Straight Shout') is that, although they draw in part on darker strains of 80s synthesised pop, they don't adopt the fetishistic approach of many of the cold wave revivalists (in France, the US and elsewhere), the obsessive recreation of period details. Cercueil are very much interested in being a modern pop group.
'After Dark', the track that has trailed 'Eurostrate', is a case in point. Its poise, the elegant arpeggios, the symphonic synth chords and Pénélope's typically diffident delivery can easily transport you to some dry ice-filled 80s club of the mind but it doesn't actually sound like a period reproduction – the band's palette is simply broader than that, from the interplay of the programmed beats with Olivier's live drumming to Nico's almost shoegaze-y guitar squalls. I've compared Pénélope to Grace Slick, which wasn't quite right – maybe a partially anaesthetised Slick, with less of the stridency but the same hauteur and sinister, quavery edge.
That's not to say that the album is perfect. The production that marks the album as fully contemporary can also be a weakness. They've mostly reined in the tendency to 'go epic' with the guitars that marred some moments on 'Shoo Straight Shout' but at times 'Eurostrate' is overly finessed and fussy - there's a slight airlessness to some tracks particularly in the first half ('After Dark' excepted), particularly on 'Boredom's Magnetic Eyes' and 'Slave Wave', which are also the ones that seem like straight reiterations of ideas on 'Shoo Straight Shout' (the latter's retooled glam beat recalls 'Skip One Breath').
In the second half, though, the band unclench and produce some of their best work to date. The high point is probably 'Shade Unit', a spacious, enveloping chamber pop ballad with a rhythm like a slightly accelerated (anxious, excited?) heartbeat, followed closely by 'Things', which is based on a head-bobbing 'Life's What You Make It'-style groove.
The key thing is that there's a fine line between the nearly successful and the really successful on 'Eurostrate', a good indicator that it's going to be onwards and upwards from here.
David McKenna