September 2nd, 2005

operesque

Toog goes (almost) to Togo

Toog appeared last night on Radio France Internationale's show Bande Passante, talking about his new record, which also happens to inaugurate a new genre — it's a "bande originale du livre" (BOL), or original soundtrack for a book. "Over electronic music played on keyboards and guitar," goes the publisher's blurb, "Toog's songs blend humour and subtly bittersweet flavours. Toog evokes the atmospheres drawn from the novel: the sounds of trains, hospitals, restaurants, and Morocco sit side by side with "chansons françaises". The words are written by Toog, based on phrases chosen from the book. The result is a varied album, with skewed humour, to be listened to before or after you read the book."

The RFI show, broadcast yesterday and available online for a week, plays tracks from the record and interviews (in French) Toog and author Yvan Améry, whose novel "Ame Soeur" (soul sister) was published on August 28th by La Volte. Toog's record is the 37 minute accompaniment, packaged as a CD with the book (and as far as I know not available anywhere else). The book's plot is summarized as follows:

"When Frank comes back from Casablanca, he learns that his sister is dead and buried. There's nothing left for him to do but visit the tomb and the places of her childhood, walking around entertaining memories which aren't in the least bit moving, trying to be sad. Cowardly, Frank quits his base on the Somme and goes back to Morocco, to escape the past, to flee his parents. In his backpack there are T shirts, bath towels, books, cannabis and, thrown in there carelessly, Claire's diary. Will reading it allow the dead girl to die better and Frank to find his place?"

I've always felt there's a bit of a gap in Toog's discography, a lost weekend between 2001 and 2004. Right after he made "Easy Toog For Beginners" we were told his next record would be an African-influenced album called "Toog Au Togo". Toog would actually go to Togo to record it, or would perhaps do a Des Esseintes and evoke Africa without leaving Paris (he was even taking lessons at one point with a Senegalese man in Paris, learning African languages). I was looking forward to this record eagerly, expecting a radical work combining African sounds with electronics, crooning and the French chanson tradition — imagine David Sylvian singing in French over Black Dice's Broken Ear Record! But "Toog Goes To Togo" never appeared. Instead (after a hiatus) we got a succession of Gainsbourgian discs unhealthily obsessed with fashion goth Asia Argento.

Well, I'm glad to report that the original soundtrack for "Ame Soeur" is, in my opinion, Toog's best work in four years. Split between songs with droll titles like "She Takes Off Her Knickers" and ambient radiophonic soundscapes evoking the landscapes of francophone North Africa, the record may not be "Toog Au Togo" as I heard it in my mind's ear, but it's at least half way there.

You can hear the RFI interview here (click "ecoutez" on the righthand side). Toog and Yvan Améry appear six minutes in, right after the phone interview with MC Solaar.