Three things strike me most about the house records I’ve enjoyed cleaning the dishes to these last few years: A surprising number of them have come from France (Daft Punk, Cassius, Bob Sinclar), most of them have been relatively vocal-free (or at most, based on one repeating, filtered sample), and all of them sound as much to me like rock and roll as they do disco. Or maybe I’m just hoping that they sound like rock and roll, or projecting an idea of what rock and roll could be onto the music; it’s highly unlikely that “Cassius 99” (which has more sock-hop in it than hip-hop) would fit into the average Smashing Pumpkins or Oasis fan’s definition. And I don’t think Daft Punk’s name-dropping Brian Wilson (in song) and the 13th Floor Elevators (in liner notes) would do much to change that preconception, never mind the fact that the duo even have a song called “Rock ‘n Roll.” There are no lyrics, Roland drums instead of Pearls, and—most crucially—no guitars (or if there are, they’ve been processed beyond recognition).
So now, from the south of France, comes >, a house outfit who make the connection in my head not just some dumb rock-critic fantasy: They have nine members (a real band, just like Blood, Sweat & Tears!), including an actual percussionist, an actual bassist, an actual flautist, and three-count- ’em actual guitarists. But before I get into that, there are two things about this group I’d love even if their debut album, Installation Sonore, were crap: the agonizing spelling of their name, which is supposed to (according to their press kit) make the word—if not the world—look like it’s moving or something (and may put me on the shit list of the Voice typesetting team forever), and the charming titles of their songs (“I Love Ma Guitare,” “> Volume I,” “Popular Mechanics”), the goofy-greatest batch overall since Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity.
I read about all the guitars in > before I actually heard them, and I feared that this was some dim-witted producer’s clichéd idea of “alternative house”; I imagined a sound that was obnoxious and cheesy (C et C Musique Factoire?), that was “rock” merely because there were electric guitars. Rather, > are a bunch of pop-savvy indie kids (led by Jean-Philippe Freu and Patou, the most sexy emaciated pop couple since Thurston and Kim) stoked on disco; I mean, really excited about it. This isn’t an alt-wimp version of dance music; it’s all about jacking your whatever, and the guitars simply reinforce that, functioning as space-age sound effects, new wave synthesizers (good luck differentiating between the Moogs and Strats), and sleazy ambience. It’s the great Eno-Moroder session that never happened, though minus a Bowie or a Summer it does admittedly lack a little in foreground thrills, especially during some of the jazzy solo “explorations” (which will endear them mightily to Tortoise fans and readers of Wire magazine). Only the gargantuan Daft-ish hook of “Le Mobilier,” the beige-sploitation fuzz of “Mes Vacances á Rio,” and the Elasticated f-punk of “La Guitaristic House Organization” transcend mere music-for-dishes. Still, the album as a whole points toward something unsettling on the dance horizon; imbued with a little more content, these guitars could destroy the world.