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  Square Dogs Records  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Brett Spaceman  

City reflection. There is nothing quite like it. The guilty pleasure of staying awake into the wee small hours, contemplating life, slumped in a faded corduroy jacket with only cigarettes and whisky for company. I'll bet each of us has their favoured artist to match or evoke just such a mood. Whether it be a Nick Cave, Will Oldham, or Matt Johnson, we all have our troubadour of choice. A gravel-voiced guide to lead us out of obscurity or at least assure us, however bad or lonely we may feel, they've almost certainly had it worse.

Such is the mood conjured by Carp. Having explored Europe and North America, this French act returned home and settled upon Paris as a base for their sound and career. Actually I lied when I said "gravel-voiced". Benoit Guivarch is no Mark Lanegan. Instead the effect is far more lounge baritone. Tee off somewhere between Matt Berninger (The National) and Stuart Staples (Tindersticks) and you'll hit the fairway, guaranteed.

Tindersticks arrangements though, were always lushly orchestrated. On Carp, most of the strings you hear are guitars. Musically the effect is closer to Low, Lambchop, or even a less spiteful Arab Strap. It's a sparser sound -- never leaden and on no account guilty of dragging in any way. Morning Sheffield is an impressive start. Like much of this collection, it exudes almost Codeine levels of sedateness but also reveals Carp to be occasionally prone to sporadic outbursts of blazing guitar. Use of such climactic release is restrained though. Carp's attitude is that 'less is more' and like many of their aforementioned peers they put this philosophy to lovely effect.

The album has other key points of interest, not least of which the fact that Mélanie Pain (from Nouvelle Vague and Villeneuve) guests on three tracks. Her sultry voice adds a different dynamic and helps keep the set fresh. This album does not attempt to be all things to all people. Instead, Carp chose wisely to stick to their sepia-drenched world and explore it fully. Their masterpiece is probably to follow, but there is just enough variation to keep this debut interesting with the duets enriching this still further.

Now a disclaimer. Anyone coming to Carp anticipating some kind of Gallic experience should probably re-think. The only song that feels French here is Mettre à Mort, which, hardly surprisingly, is the only one to be sung en français. Perhaps there is a Continental European feel to some of these pieces? Losing our Ownselves is not unlike a nostalgic Divine Comedy, but by turns there are markers toward a more forward-thinking Carp. Moments here and there on the album, especially on the outstanding The Great Escape and Coz, suggest that a direction toward post-rock atmospherics could be forthcoming.

Aside from guests and possibilities this album remains all about Guivarch's velvet vocals. His smoky croon is central to everything this debut strives for - ambience, texture, warmth, and human frailty. Late nights have suddenly become fun again as we allow city sickness to fall upon us like an old friend.

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