Mixed bag with Simone, Malajube releases

By Supriya Sinhababu

Halloween marked the release of both Remixed and Re-Imagined, a compilation of Nina Simone songs, and Malajube’s Trompe-L’oeil. While the former album chronicles the costume changes of 13 choice Simone tracks engineered by producers of varying talent, Malajube goes for a more come-as-you-are approach, in spite of how critics have attempted to hype the band.

The Re-Imagined part in the title of the Nina Simone compilation may be a bit of an overstatement. The majority of Simone’s recordings are covers in the first place—this compilation includes everyone from the Beatles to the Bee Gees. Therefore, Simone’s recordings are generally best supplemented not by an injection of imagination, but by samples or beats that work with her slow-burn vocals.

Simone’s androgynous vocals surprisingly do not sacrifice distinctiveness for range. Her voice has a maple syrup texture that takes its time filling up the lyrics with its richness; it can resonate with jubilee as in “O-o-oh Child,” drag itself mournfully across the floor as in “Save Me,” or egg the listener on with “Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter.”

The remixes are a mixed bag. Tony Humphries dub of “Turn Me On,” for instance, excellently features Simone’s voice as an instrument. Humphries layers a looped pan flute with male tribal background vocals, actually making Simone’s dusty vocals sound more contemporary. Generally though, the best remixes add motion and urgency to Simone’s melting vocals, as in the woeful “Save Me (Coldcut remix)” and “Here Comes the Sun,” remixed by Francois K. At worst, the new versions deplete the songs of their original energy; Chris Coco’s remix of “To Love Somebody,” for example, leaves full minutes of the song virtually beat-less. Instead of emphasizing Simone’s vocals, the remix denies her voice an interesting space to fill.

Malajube, on the other hand, has been disguised by critics rather than producers. The Montreal-based five-piece group who sing (and occasionally scream) in French has been described as punk, emo, and even post-hardcore. In reality, Malajube scrape their knuckles against Muse, but they’re probably better matched trading shiners with Arcade Fire. A more accurate impression of the band comes straight from the packaging. The sketches of sea creatures, blossoming aortas, and flying urinary infections which litter the liner notes perfectly illuminate the upbeat, goth-tinged amalgam of indie pop and dance punk that lies within.

Trompe-L’oeil starts off with the catchy, straight-up indie pop “Montréal –40° C” and “Pâte Filo” before showing what it’s really capable of in “Le Crabe.” Acoustic interludes let singer Julien Mineau croon against the beat once it creeps back, incorporating the hip-swing of the previous songs into this decidedly more club-ready number. Malajube’s strength is that they seamlessly ratchet up their syncopated bomp-a-lomp bounce to a tight, danceable beat. Trompe-L’oeil’s most successful songs each evoke this contrast. “La Monagamie,” for example, builds from acoustic strumming to a yowling indie stomp, culminating in a shifting, kinetic chorus that dies down once again to contrast with the big finish—a unison chorus awash in piano, guitars, and cymbals.

Midway through, the album begins to lose this balance between beat and bop. “La Russe” leaves behind the jerky piano jangle of “Ton Plat Favori” for an otherworldly, keyboard-driven sway, making an awkward jump from the hoedown to the club. “Fille à Plumes” comes back with twice the scuffle of “Le Crabe,” but none of the indie pop sensibility. The album subsequently loses momentum to the point where the laid-back “Casse Cou” and atmospheric “Etienne d’Août” come off as filler. The bop returns with “St Fortunat,” only to elude the listener once more in the eight-odd minutes of silence between “La Fin” and its unremarkable end hit.