Okay, so the lame Aussie-slagging reference really is just about as stale as those sporting types who still refer to the infamous underarm bowling incident back in ’81. We do know that the Australian music scene is diverse and often diverting, but it’s still surprising when we encounter a record as urbane and musically sophisticated as Not Bad, the really very good debut by Bad French. It’s very definitely not Aussie pub-rock, and it probably shaves its balls, as well as dabbing on a subtle blend of perfumes that any intelligent 21st Century man, woman or gender-fluid human could appreciate.
Bad French is the project of vocalist Dan Forsyth and instrumentalist Mike Carney, and it’s obvious right from the first notes of the first song, ‘Le Pull’, that there’s a certain wit and playfulness at work here that’s apparent in Forsyth’s lyrics – if not his delivery – and Carney’s deliciously squiggling synth-lines. And to give my views a little ballast, my three-and-a-half-year-old walked in on me silently grooving to this track and said: “I like your music, Daddy!” before proceeding to do a spontaneous creative dance to it.
The Bad French bio suggests that the duo is influenced by 1980s music, and it’s easy to play Spot The Influence but really, they’re so much more than that. They’ve probably never even heard of the UK’s Frazier Chorus who were around at the turn of the decade (the ‘80s into the ‘90s, that is) but there are striking similarities, including the soft-focus, almost completely electronic sound and sequencing and the semi-whispered vocals. Heck, they even reminded me a little of forgotten Australian electronic band The Reels. But where Bad French are strikingly different is that there’s a fairly well disguised (but evident, nevertheless) jazziness and in general, a musical sophistication that suggests they’ve also spent time listening to 1970s groups like Steely Dan.
They’re also, in many ways, very much of their own time, too: think the crunchy sound design and playfulness of Yachts, for instance, or the way a group like Vampire Weekend incorporate African-sounding guitar lines into their otherwise electronic sound world. And speaking of the sound design, that might seem like a dry subject but where so much contemporary music only sounds good on shitty wireless speakers on shitty lo-res Spotify connections, Bad French live in a world that’s as musically fragrant as you imagine them to be and every note sounds luscious and larger than life.
The grooves are tight, while both the sequencer-led patterns and the expansive synth blooms (which are reminiscent at times of the marvellous work of Ryuichi Sakamoto) have a lustrous and frankly, musical quality that evades many projects of their ilk. Bad French sound intoxicated by the sounds emanating from their machinery in the same way that so many bands in the early-to-mid-‘80s couldn’t get enough of the weird sounds that their hi-tech samplers could render and spew out in sequence, and that’s a good thing.
Forsyth’s songs mostly hover around the various negotiations of love and lust, and as with ‘Jasper Dean’, there’s a tendency towards woozy, dreamy, smooth vacation love songs with lines like: “With your perfect lips and reticence and Caribbean eyes…” The same song has attractively debonair synth stylings and semi-acoustic guitar lines that make it all very cool in an easy listening fashion.
My only qualms are about the prominence given to Forsyth’s vocals. He’s actually a very adept mannerist and sings in a hushed style that sounds kind of naïve and fresh-faced and yet sophisticated, but it’s one sound that’s draped across every song and I ended up yearning for just a little bit less of them.
Overall, however, Not Bad is the kind of album that sadly, comes along too seldom. I actually wanted to listen to it again, which is a rarity in itself.