Though long established in the Lyon post punk/electronic scene, Societe Etrange look set to extend their wavelength with a pulsating new album ‘Chance’ (available on Bongo Joe March 4th onwards). Evolving from the partnership of Antoine Bellini (electronics) and Romain Hervault (bass), the music of Societe Etrange has been oscillating within their city’s cluster of collectives and creatives for over ten years now. Their previous LP ‘Au Revoir’ emerged way back in 2015 focusing on the motoric and minimal with Alan Vega/Martin Rev undertones but now ‘Chance’ looks set to up the ante. With percussionist and electronic musician Jonathan Grandcollot joining the group, the Societe Etrange sound has lost none of its fierce independent edge, just gained more dynamic possibilities.
It’s a record that depends less on the mesmeric but more on surging post rock heftiness, spikey post punk rhythms and the powerful undertow of dub electronics to push the six tracks over some imagined industrial hinterland. The entrance to Societe Etrange’s otherworld is via ‘La Rue Principale De Grandrif’, a bustling thoroughfare alive with shadowy basslines, clattering beat mechanics and minimal guitar coding. The track oozes atmosphere as it descends through some cavernous electronics before resting somewhere darker. From then the five instrumental components that combine to make ‘Chance’ unwind with a sense of purpose and coherence that elevates the trio’s sound beyond any sprawling anonymity.
Take ‘Nute’ as a prime example. Resolutely built around an expectant synth melody with Kraftwerk sensibilities and agile non-rock percussion, Societe Etrange show they have an intuitive grasp on the power of repetition. Here is a band that can take a theme, extend it, stretch it then distort and disconnect it, before returning to the starting point for the final push. Want proof then check ‘Nute’s’ prolonged key changing mid -section, all dub swirls and thuds, before its ascent back to the main hook – crowd pulling stuff.
Then there’s the angular urban-noir ‘New New York’ that skulks around to the judders of reverberating synth chords and drummed kinetics. As ominous as Martin Rev’s cityscape music, the band fearlessly lead the track underground with a prolonged climb down through the dub sub-strata. Audacious and incredibly effective, ‘New New York’ demonstrates a sense of detail with its deftly placed tambourine chinks and flute squeaks, reminiscent of This Heat at their most forensic.
Such an attuned dub aesthetic is a significant contributor to the Societe Etrange sound. ‘Sur La Piste De Danse’ takes that vibe deeper and lower with Hervault’s minimal bass booming upfront while Grandcollot’s drum patter adds some exotic warmth. It’s not surprising that co-founder Antoine Bellini has spoken of the band’s music being elevated by their newest member’s arrival. The rhythmic element on ‘Chance’ makes so much more than a beat making contribution. Grandcollot’s drumming adds colour and interest, light and shade, atmosphere and anchorage. Think the Jacki Liebezeit/Charles Hayward school of kit-work or a contemporary parallel in Valetina Magaletti’s work with Vanishing Twin and Holy Tongue. That versatility is pivotal to the sultry ‘A L’interieur Au Numero 97’ where a relaxed samba disguises a deceptively complex musical weave. Stabbing buzz-saw synth shapes, modular bleeps, root note bass, hissing hi-hat and supple conga pulses lock and bond to make an effortless meandering whole.
Maybe it’s at these moments, when experimental fluidity and defined structures combine, that Societe Etrange are at their most potent. Closing tune ‘Futur’ certainly lobbies hard in favour of that proposition with some immaculately controlled pace and drive. Call it anthemic, call it a ‘banger’, call it whatever, this is music that has a joyous uplift from the moment the highlife bass conjures up those harmonics, all the way to the tumbling drum play out. The track also stands as a fitting coda to an album that for all its energy and abstraction still reaches out and connects. For Societe Etrange to have achieved this on ‘Chance’ is not, despite the record’s title, lucky. ‘Chance’ is the result of natural chemistry, shared experience and inspired musical judgement.
Get your copy of ‘Chance’ by Societe Etrange from your local record store or order at: https://societeetrange.bandcamp.com/album/chance