There are a few tracks on Fránçois & The Atlas Mountains fifth album that saunter past the five minute mark, but even the shorter ones seem to stretch time, unfurling with the graceful fortitude of a sapling edging towards the sun. Slow and easy, these songs wind curious, alluring paths through styles, moods and sometimes even continents, possessing a subtle eclecticism that melds African and South Asian sounds with familiar but nonetheless rewarding indie folk and synth pop.
Such composure suggests the end of a journey for Fránçois Marry and company. The Atlas Mountains began as more of a personal songwriting project for the French-born frontman (who at one time toured as a member of Camera Obscura) but has gradually evolved into a fully-fledged collaborative entity.
2014’s Piano Ombre seemed to catch the band somewhere in the cocoon stage of that transformation, expanding their horizons and developing a richer sound but doing so in the image of influences like labelmates Animal Collective and very obviously Metronomy, as evidenced on breakthrough single La Vérité. On Solide Mirage however, they’ve emerged in full bloom on the other side, making for a confident and consistent record that should be a great entry point for newcomers.
Even if your French is as miserable as the average Briton’s, there’s a romance to Mirage that requires no translation, and not just because of Marry’s admittedly smoky accented purr. Quivering strings courtesy of Owen Pallett bring a sepia-toned swell of sentimentality to the wistful 1982 and Perpétuel Été (Perpetual Summer) is everything the name suggests, albeit with a prickly arabian guitar lick thrown in for good measure. This sensuality extends to the more electronic-oriented tracks too, like the atmospheric foot-tapper Tendre Est l'Ame or the chirpy Apres Après, and things get especially steamy during Jamais Deux Pareils’ middle eight, all wavy synths and harmonised sighs.
It’s particular bizarre, then, when Bête Morcelée – essentially The Atlas Mountains do Cloud Nothings – clatters through the proceedings like a hurricane through a pool party, and it would be a phenomenal misstep were it not so brilliant. Hand drums are thrown aside in favour some good old tom-whacking while Marry adopts a raspy yell unlike much else in their catalogue with scintillating results. It’s definitely an odd choice, but it demonstrates the kind of catharsis this band are now capable of, even if it usually takes a slower burning form. Moreover, it suggests that Marry et al aren’t quite done transforming just yet. And like their best songs, they don’t seem in any hurry to get there.
Listen to: 1982, Apres Après, Perpétuel Été