French pop marvels, the Liminanas, hail not from Paris, but from a town called Perpignan, nestled between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean (also home to the also awesome Sonic Chicken 4).
The Liminanas self-titled debut, released in the States on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind label, was a sparkling collection of garage-rock and Velvet Underground inseminated Gallic pop. The follow up, Crystal Anis (on another Chicago underground stalwart, Hozac Records) is a shorter, sharper distillation of their aesthetic. Smart, simple and seductive - you’ll listen again and again.
Since the French pop of the Sixties and early Seventies, represented by singers in the Ye-Ye style (which could be generously interpreted to include everyone from France Gall and Sylvie Vartan to Jacques Dutronc and Francoise Hardy) and the sinuous, sexy songs of Serge Gainsbourg, Gallic pop has been pretty much a wasteland for three decades. The petit renaissance that began with bands like Sonic Chicken 4 and the Plasticines showed the French could rock out with flair. And the Liminanas add additional support to a new case for Franco-rock.
Lionel and Marie (Liminanas) use spare, simple materials. Unlike many of the V.U. influenced ensembles since the Jesus and Mary Chain or Spacemen 3, Lionel Liminana abjures slick slabs of harmonic distortion, favoring instead discreet bits of Reed/Morrison guitar framings, more redolent of the Velvet’s third, self-titled album and Loaded than the merciless wave of White Light/White Heat. The band’s music also travels well with fellow neo-retro rockers like the Raveonettes and the Dum Dum Girls, even sometimes suggesting the Euro-cool of Stereolab.
From the tremolo guitar on “Longanisse” (a sort of sausage, hmm?), and the flanged sounds of the title track, to the blasts of fuzz guitar on the choruses of “AF3458,” the Liminanas keep the textures fresh and changing. Lionel’s guitar parts play off his Farfisa and Vox Continental style organ lines. Championed since the heyday of the sound by guys like Jeff “Monoman” Connolly in DMZ and the Lyres, these archetypal keyboard sounds are forever identified with Sixties garage-rock, a vibe associated more with one (or two) hit wonders like the Castaways, Five Americans and Seeds than the Beatles/Stones/Kinks canon.
Lionel’s vintage guitar and organ sonorities are driven by Marie’s basic, insistent drumming, and blended with everything from ukulele (“Salvation”) and glockenspiel (“Longanisse”). It’s a palette both bone simple and subtly complex and the Liminanas know the difference between embellishment and excess.
You can hear the ghost of “I Got You Babe” on “Hospital Boogie,” while the instrumental “Belmondo” (a homage to new wave film star Jean Paul Belmondo) sounds like a mix of Syd Barrett’s (okay, early Pink Floyd) “Lucifer Sam” and the fictional soundtrack stars Max Frost and the Storm Troopers. “Betty and Johnny,” one of several songs sung in the band’s native tongue, has a guitar figure so derivative of Hilton Valentines’ three chord declaration on the Animals’ “We Got to Get Out of This Place” (itself a variation on Link Wray’s “Rumble”) that it might be a sample (but I think it’s played).
There’s a defiant, anomic cool to the Liminanas lyrics (at least the ones in English that a dope like me can understand), epitomized by the lyrics from “Salvation” – ‘I remember nothing when I think of you”/”I need salvation, but I don’t need you”. The detached, stylish cool of vintage Godard characters prevails here. It’s easy to imagine this music as an updated soundtrack for Breathless, Alphaville, or Band of Outsiders.
The odd song out here is their collaboration with Southern gothic storyteller/garage-punker John Wesley Coleman, who sings a kind of blank verse saga about a girlfriend mired in poverty and bored criminality (she might steal his car, but she “can’t afford the gas”). Hey, it starts with the line “I want to tell you about my baby;” and any song that cops the opening line from “Gloria” is a winner in my book. It’s a weird, but ripe paring, suggesting a full-length collaboration between Coleman and the Liminanas. I’m proposing it at least.
Crystal Anis pushes all of my cool, dark buttons. The Liminanas imply a certain flirtatious naivete. But I think they know exactly what they’re up to; and I would like more.