While I am an indie kid through and through, spending many nights in the audible company of Okkervil River and The National, I’ve always had a weakness for the music of my people, the Fench. I like being French for innumerable reasons, including but not limited to my love of the country’s seductive yet relâché take on fashion and the French’s laissez faire attitude towards relationships, but the thing I love most about my heritage is chanson. From Jane Birkin and Francoise Hardy to modern day French multitaskers like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Keren Ann, I’ve always been taken with my proverbial motherland and I’ve always wondered why it is exactly that more French music isn’t widely available and beloved in the states.
Part of that, of course, is the fact that some of the loveliest French releases never even make it to America. One of these such releases is the debut full length album by chanteuse Madjo, a classically trained French-Senegalese violinist. If Trapdoor, her September released album, were brought to the U.S., I feel like Madjo could be the next big quirky indie female… if only people could hear her!
Madjo is a spritely scamp who’s adorable nature brings to mind, vocally, a mix of Fiona Apple and Imogen Heap and, personality wise, a more three dimensional version of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s enigmatic pal Zoe in The Science of Sleep.
Trapdooris split almost evenly between perfectly enunciated English indie pop and edgy, quirky tracks in Madjo’s native toungue. Album opener “Leaving My Heart” spins a jazz tinged web that’s not completely out of step with Fiona Apple, back when she was ripe with Jon Brion’s lovely oddities. As with the rest of the album, “Leaving My Heart” is heavy on layered vocals, making Madjo’s husky and melodic voice even more alluring.
The dance beat of “Another Day” is ripe for play at hipster bars while “Le Coeur Hibou” is audible sex appeal, with enticing vocals that only a French woman could provide and a backdrop of multi-layered, echoing instruments. The album’s title track is a clap-along number that spares no expense when it comes to charm and it just begs to be in a Focus Features off-beat romance, during the inevitable “Why don’t we just fall in love?” moment between the two quirky and neurotic main characters.
While I am French by birth, I cannot hold my own in a French conversation to save my life. Nevertheless, one of Trapdoor’s most captivating tracks is “Le Nid Des 100 Soucis.” What’s Madjo saying? I haven’t a clue! But the fact that “Le Nid Des 100 Soucis” a straight up, infectious jam is a testament to Madjo’s talent. Nothing to do with the appeal of the song, or Madjo herself, is lost in translation.
Amber Valentine is the editor in chief of Radio Free Chicago and you can read her review of Madjo’s first release, a self titled EP, here.