B.I.P.P.P. French Synth Wave 1979-85 – Various Artists

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OK, so sure, some of the songs sound like they borrowed their entire melodic and harmonic structures from the original Zelda for GameBoy, but there are serious gems on this well-curated release of a little-known era in French synth-rock. Most of the better tracks make good use of the famous (or notorious) analog synthesizer with intricate song structures, while the worst appear to have simply programmed a repetitive melody and screamed over it in nonsensical French.

The fact that this compilation is almost entirely in a foreign language poses a conundrum for the listener. If you don’t speak French you may wish you understood the words, but those who are fairly fluent may not want to understand some of the more insipid yowls. One of the most memorable lines in any of the tracks is “Don’t touch my penis, little girl…under any pretext” from Comix’s “Touche Pas Mon Sexe”.

Some of the musicians included push their Casios and Korgs to the limit, especially the group TGV (named after France’s network of high-speed trains), whose pixelated “Partie 1” creates a dense, industrial/new wave ambiance, and Mary Möör who, in “Pretty Day”, repeats “my blue eyes in your black eyes / it’s a pretty day to die” in two languages over an explosion of synthesized sound.

None of these tracks ever sold that well upon their original release but Parisian indie label Bad Boy and their stateside distributor Everloving have done an admirable job of picking through the era’s few standouts and tossing them onto this compilation. There are enough quality performances that this disc can stand on its own alongside anything from the Manchester New Wave of the same period.

All of the included recordings were remastered from their original 7” releases, and the sound quality is superb. Hopefully Everloving will include with their release the 36-page insert booklet featuring band photographs and biographies that was in the Bad Boy version.

Speaking of French music featuring synthesizers, listeners would do well to continue their aural voyages à l’étranger beyond the synth-punk-rock genre. Another popular style that was making itself known in the French-speaking world around the same time as these DIY groups was French Antillean zouk from the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The fusions of ‘traditional’ Creole rhythms with a more contemporary synthesized sound created a music with a worldwide following, at least as new and influential as what you’ll hear on B.I.P.P.P. Names to check out from that scene include Jocelyne Béroard and Kassav'.