Laetitia Sadier - Silencio!

by Daryl Worthington Rating:9 Release Date:2012-07-23

'Our church is on fire, from its crypt up to its spire' - Laetitia Sadier, Fragment pour le future de l'homme.

I'm writing this review the same day that Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for acts of 'hooliganism' in Moscow's main cathedral. The details of Pussy Riot's plight are probably familiar to most readers by now, and if not can be easily found by a quick Google search. You're probably wandering why I have started a review of Laetitia Sadier's new album with talk of a Russian punk band. Hopefully this will become apparent.

Throughout her times as singer and multi-instrumentalist with (sadly no-more) Stereolab, her three albums with Monade and her debut solo album, Sadier's work has always dealt with heavy social and political themes. However, whereas Pussy Riot make their argument with public displays and immediate and aggressive music, Sadier has taken a different approach. If taken purely musically, Silencio! is a beautiful pop album. The songs are a mixture of jangly 60s-style guitars, Morricone-esque string arrangements, and Sadier's usual timeless French/English vocals. But this album is not meant to be taken purely musically.

Opening track 'The Rule of the Game' begins with cinematic strings, choral vocals and gently strummed electric guitar. Abruptly, after about four minutes, the song breaks into a weird surf groove with twangy guitar, garage rock drums, and wobbly synth. The title of the song is inspired by a Jean Renoir film, and takes the responsibility of the ruling classes for the rise of fascism as its theme. This is music and a political analysis routed in details. As more layers of the arrangement are gradually revealed, so the idea of the lyrics comes into focus.

'Ausculation to the Nation' is one of the most energetic tracks on the album. The lyrics discuss the nature of the monetary system, and call for change. The song has a sense of movement, but not violence. It has the feel of a punk anthem, but instead of distortion the guitars are jangly, the drums urgent but controlled. The song never lets its energy overtake the details of the arrangement, or the message found in the lyrics, a feature common throughout Silencio!. Sadier uses a broad range of styles throughout the album, but everything is done with taste and restraint.

Track five, 'There is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and It isn't Security)' starts with soaring strings, for some reason reminding me of something from a Bond film soundtrack, but never descending into self-indulgence or pomp. The track contrasts its epic sound with lyrics which discuss the relationship between the individual, society and consumerism. Several of the tracks, such as 'Between Heaven and Earth' have a Spanish feel to them. Clean guitars with staccato strumming, providing a nice summery feel to the album and a contrast to the slower, more widescreen songs.

Silencio! and the protest of Pussy Riot are both very valid examples of artists engaging critically with the world around them. Sadier is writing in a society markedly different from that of Pussy Riot - she is unlikely to ever have to deal with the explicit censorship that Pussy Riot have had to contend with, and this is an important consideration. However, beyond this is also a fundamental difference in approach. Sadier's is not a confrontation based on the obvious. The subtlety of the music reflects perfectly her deep lyrical analysis of politics, economics and existence. Silencio! is more like a peaceful occupy protest than an assault on a church.

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