London, New York, Paris Munich, everybody’s talking about…well it’s got to be Geneva, home to one of the most vibrant European scenes that gets broadcast to the rest of us through the antennae of Bongo Joe records. The label has offered up some fine home town releases this year from Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, Amami and L’Eclair but just when you thought everything was hunkering down for the festivities here comes their final fling, Tout Bleu’s ‘Otium’ an attention-grabbing strike of electro tinged dark wave (available from 10th December).
Revolving around multi- instrumentalist Simone Aubert’s insistent creativity, Tout Bleu’s self-titled first LP in 2019 was a record of intense twists and turns, at times luxuriant, at times more brutal. Drawn from her roots in the Geneva experimental scene Aubert’s music constructed unsettling textures but on ‘Otium’ things have shifted. There’s a sharpness and economy here, songs and arrangements fine-tuned to hit with precision without losing Tout Bleu’s characteristic edge.
You sense that the more collective approach to making ‘Otium’ has helped nurture the band’s refreshing accessibility. Aubert still remains the dynamo but electronic musician/producer Pol plus Naomi Mabanda (cello) and Luciano Turella (viola) add lively new dimensions to the expanding Tout Bleu soundscape. Into the electronic energy field comes a folklore earthiness, no less powerful but more frost and fire than bolts and jolts. Take ‘Baleine’ for starters. From the sonorous drone, alien chatter and rustic horn calls, the song develops a soaring airborne quality elevated by the gliding vocal, reeling rhythms and billowing cello propulsion. Gradually reaching lift off ‘Baleine’ possesses that heart swelling quality of the finest Sigur Ros moments and is an indicator of Tout Bleu’s sonic ambition on ‘Otium’. This is big music in the making.
‘Entre Les Mots’ is another track that pushes the physicality of Mabanda and Turella’s strings to the front with an 80’s electro minimalism to keep things grounded. There’s a serious kosmische sway to the overall pulse topped by an intense echoing vocal that hovers between the psyche terrors and those hymnal cloisters. That sense of foreboding curdles through the whole record, stoked by Simone Aubert’s passionate disdain for moneyed immorality. Her drive gives this exceptional set of songs cohesion and a defiantly gothic flavour, best heard on the operatic swoon of the cross-rhythmic ‘Constellation’ and the glacial procession of opening track ‘Ere De Rien’.
Although Tout Bleu obviously thrive in the land of hypnotic layers and shadowy melodrama, on ‘Otium’ they keep a tight rein on the superfluous to carefully avoid any tedium. ‘Rucksucre’ is direct and catchy, a muscular string driven thing where deft loops and clicks build a rolling groove for those insistent vocals to protest over. Then there’s the album’s title track, a tune on which the band pare things down even further, easing into a succulent trip-hop rhythm and those spooked vocal loops. There are confident drops and stops, tangling guitars and searching strings which explore the dub zone but the central smoky flow holds firm until a timely bass synth cool down.
To avoid things becoming too comfortable Aubert and her buddies throw in a couple of more angular tunes which hint at their previous avant-garde/experimental bent. ‘Ce Sera’ morphs from spoken word to the robotic and hits the industrial button with a pummelling slow-core crunch. Stranger still ‘U22’ mixes a Deus-like guitar interface with pastoral organ before twisting out of shape via maths rock complications and background screams. For other bands these tracks might have seemed to be arty pauses but for Tout Bleu they feel like key components, central to Otium’s completeness as a record.
Final cut ‘She’s Lost’ ensures that there is no slacking although it vibrates with a slightly different kind of tension than the rest of the album. Monastic, atmospheric and built around a cyclical drone, it’s more a curling wave form than orthodox song with Aubert’s yearning repeat ‘She’s so lost’ cutting through the cavernous swirl’. It’s a chilling coda, achingly ambivalent, possibly personal, probably political but decisively placed to bring closure to ‘Otium’.
Coming as it does at the end of another bewildering year Tout Bleu have released a record that has been snatched from the chaos and part assembled using remotely recorded sessions. Still those circumstances have shot it full of resolve and insight making ‘Otium’ an album that probes, questions and pushes without ever losing the listener.
Grab a copy of ‘Otium’ from your local record shop or direct from Bongo Joe at