Last time you heard so much accordion, chances are it was polka and you were drunkenly foraging through your grandparents’ vinyl. Or maybe you were in New Orleans for a weekend of debauchery and zydeco. But what the amorphous Parisian band Les Primitifs du Futur actually plays is “musette,” a style that developed in France at the turn of the century before exploding in Paris in the 1930s and ’40s. Incorporating popular folk dancing from Auvergne with swing, gypsy inflections, and, yes, polka, musette is by definition dance music. Even now, chances are that the orchestra at any self-respecting popular ball on Bastille Day will play it along with a choice selection of tangos, pasos, and fox-trots. And Les Primitifs du Futur is the ball band to end all ball bands.
On this side of the Atlantic, the Primitifs’ main selling point is that Robert Crumb is involved. Well-known for his obsessive love of old 78s, he designed the gorgeous cover, played banjo and mandolin, and even sang on a few tracks. But the true Primitif leader is guitarist Dominique Cravic, who wrote most of the material and, Mission: Impossible-style, gathered a crack team of experts in instruments such as “jazzo-flute” and “cabrette.” Fay Lovsky (Arling & Cameron’s pal) even contributes wicked solos on the musical saw—that’s how rocking this CD is.
True to its title, the album pays tribute to musette by mixing it up with as many dance styles as possible, leading to unholy dancefloor experiments (“Fox musette,” “La java viennoise,” “La valse chinoise”) that evoke a dream Paris in which ’40s-style bad boys hang out with gypsy gangsters. Sure, it’s a big exercise in fetishization, but it’s one that manages to be knowing and affectless at the same time.