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Pop Psychédélique isn't a history lesson in French psych pop, but it is a tremendous experience

"Pop Psychédélique"

Release date: 01 October 2021
Various artists pop psychedelique art
28 September 2021, 09:00 Written by Chris Taylor
It’s likely that the majority of the English-speaking world’s introduction to French psychedelic pop came from an unlikely source: Futurama.

Christopher Tyng’s theme for Matt Groening’s animated sci-fi sitcom is heavily inspired by Pierre Henry’s “Psyche Rock”. This piece of musical mayhem, all clanging bells and fuzzed-up guitars, sounds completely of another time despite being made in 1967. Closing out the truly wild ride of Pop Psychédélique, it’s the perfect encapsulation of what makes this excellent compilation so special.

Stretching from 1964 to 2019, the compilation marks the shift from the frivolity of yé-yé, France’s answer to bubblegum pop and Merseybeat coyness, to something with more weight.

French psychedelic pop played its part in the growing counter-culture movement, swept in to comfort the alienated post-war generation. Reckoning with the aftermath of the Algerian War, this group was increasingly politically active. The French New Wave was shifting from the sarcastic to the serious and, by May 1968, civil unrest reached the country. It was a tacit rejection of what had come before; the youth seizing back control of their lives from those that had thrown them into turmoil.

France Gall’s yé-yé classic “Laisse tomber les filles” shows just how pop was changing right under their noses. Released not long before her Eurovision victory (with a song that involved Alain Gorageur, who went on to create influential soundtrack to the trippy La Planète sauvage), it combined the upbeat pop melodies the public were used to with surprisingly vengeful lyrics. Not quite psychedelic, but a serious move away from the status quo.

Other cultural icons like Jacqueline Taïeb, with her stream-of-consciousness hit “7AM”, and Brigitte Bardot dip their toes into this wild world. But the era-defining piece of weirdness comes from Nino Ferrer with a song that soundtracked many a French lesson: “Les cornichons”. There’s a sense of liberation across those ‘60s and ‘70s tracks. License to be silly, confident in your own skin, and distinctly yourself.

Seeing the evolution of the sound over the decades, with Liminanas’ fuzzed-out “Migas 2000”, L’Epee’s ethereally cool “Dreams” and, of course, an appearance by Air shows that this sound still holds its charm. The decision to place those tunes in and amongst the era-specific ones is an interesting choice, but it serves to highlight that timeless quality. “Migas 2000” could’ve easily been in record stores at the same time as Les 5 Gentlemen.

From the unfathomable brilliance of musique concrete to freaky, grungy psychedelia, Pop Psychédélique is a tremendous experience. It may not work as a history lesson, throwing chronology out of the window in favour of vibes, but the vibes are so strong that you’ll have Jean Jacques-Perry’s “E.V.A.” stuck in your head for weeks.

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