Don’t let the name fool you; Je Suis France are not French. They are from Athens — not Greece, but Georgia — the town that spawned such diverse and enigmatic groups as The B-52’s, Pylon, REM, and Flat Duo Jets in the ’70s and ’80s. Although they are emerging from the sleepy southern college town years after its most famous inhabitants, Je Suis France lack none of the famed Athenian eccentricity. In fact, their sound is so relentlessly weird that it only reinforces the suspicion, most widely generated by the documentary Athens, GA Inside-Out, that there is, indeed, something in the water down there.
While it’s hard to characterize Je Suis France’s sound, it definitely hearkens back to a time when the label “alternative” actually meant something. It’s hard to imagine that any group could earn comparisons to Jonathan Richman, Dinosaur Jr., and They Might Be Giants, all in the course of just 35 minutes, but Je Suis France does just that. The group gleefully alternates between instrumentals and vocal tracks, churning out murky guitar-rock (“Release of the Tuscon [sic] Killers”), retro-pop (“He Had Metal in His Head”), and ethereal jangle-pop (“Sensitive Chris”) with equal glee.
As playful song titles like “I Can’t Believe It, I Can Fly!” and “Minuteman, Never Stand Alone…” imply, this is not a band that takes itself too seriously. The band’s playing is not terribly deft, nor is the music slickly produced. However, their debut is impressive in its scope, audacious in its eccentricity, and, more often than not, fun and engaging.
The only off-putting thing about Je Suis France is the group’s penchant for in-jokes. Take, for example, the baffling cover art and liner notes, with their references to an African folk tale that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with this music. There’s also a baffling list of personnel, where the band members use such names as “The Darkness” and “Iceberg.” Sometimes even the songs seem like in-jokes. This can be somewhat off-putting, preventing the listener from fully becoming a part of the experience. Still, it’s an unusually intriguing, if somewhat schizophrenic, debut from a one-of-a-kind band.