Je Suis Une Île by Halo Maud (France)
Hailing from the French proggy, psychedelic and experimental pop scene that birthed Melody’s Echo Chamber, Moodoïd and cult label La Souterraine, Halo Maud’s ethereal songs flit between English and French language, focussing on notions of freedom and power through a wild and playful lens.
Right through the dream-pop sensibility and the swirling-synth psychedelia of Halo Maud’s debut album, something uncanny lurks. “I never did what other teenagers were doing,” she says, by way of explanation. “My father is a reverend but my mother rejected all religion, so I was always busy having a mystical crisis.” The record is rich with these contradictions, with the urge to be both precise and vague, wanting to be somewhere and wanting to run away. The music also has a delicate balance between English and French. Maud Nadal grew up in rural Auvergne, in central France, and lives in Paris, but for years she wrote in English. “It took me a while to find my voice, to find my language even. I always listened to English music so when I started writing songs they were in English, too, and French came later. It’s difficult – everything sounds good in English, French is much harder.” That push-and-pull between the languages, where a song often contains both English and French, is another example of the stories lurking beneath the songs – “When I sing in English, the words float away from me straight away,” she explains. “When I sing in French, I feel something different, something more immediate, and I think the audience do too.” These songs are ethereal, they seem to float above: “Sometimes I feel that the way time passes is about how you look at it. It’s about patience and perspective. I like to play with time, in the music, speed it up, slow it down, play it backwards. Sometimes things make sense when you put them in reverse.” She’s talking about her life (of course) as well as her album: “The first song and the last song are a pair, about the traces and sensations left at the end of a relationship.” The whole record folds in the middle, in fact, the second half looking back at the first with a flinty eye. That opening track, ‘Wherever’, is a sweet tumbling love song – her voice is delicate and sweet, until you notice it’s also spooky and sinister. ‘Du Pouvoir’, the almost-jaunty second track about confidence and finding your place in the world, has an evil twin on side B of the record: ‘Je Suis Une Ile’ samples ‘Du Pouvoir’ but plays it backwards, like an apocryphal 80 metal hit, and adds an icy rage to the optimism of the earlier song. The whole flipside of the album is a wonky mirror, with playful loops and percussion and keys that are always about to slip from mischief to malevolence.