BY STEVE WILSON
On their third album Costa Blanca, a return to Chicago’s Trouble In Mind label that released their debut, the Liminanas bring the noise (a new penchant for slabs of guitar distortion) and an expanded cinematic sensibility to their Gallic garage-pop vision.
When discussing the Liminanas, reviewers invariably mention Yé-yé
(a frothy variant on French pop music, dating from the late Fifties), as well as the Velvet Underground, Serge Gainsbourg (himself an auteur descendant of Yé-yé), and more recently, the film music of Ennio Morricone. Increasingly, the Yé-yé citations are marginal. Yeah, the band sings in French (and Italian, and English, and …), and there are Franco melodic intervals their music shares with the style, but if you watch a few Sylvie Vartan videos you won’t be thinking, “Damn, this is so Liminanas!”
So, dig a bit deeper and what distinguishes the Liminanas is the way they develop a fairly limited set of influences into a surprisingly eclectic and personal aesthetic. The songs on Costa Blanca are longer and more grooved infused than those on their second album, Crystal Anis (on Chicago’s Hozac label). Costa Blanca (named for a coastal Spanish region, including the city Valencia) is a dark, subversive pleasure, part consumer fodder, and part steely-eyed critique, part rock ‘n’ roll memoir.
Recorded in their home studio in the south of France, Costa Blanca finds Lionel and Maria (the Liminanas), combining Cale-era Velvets and Gallic pop elements, yet they do so with the fellow traveler vibe of latter day Velvets adherents like Mazzy Star (the beats – against the enormously distorted fuzz guitar on “La Mercedes de couleur gris metallise”) and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, on the instrumental “Alicante” (the driving rhythm guitar, tambourine, and Farfisa organ) and with “La Melancolie,” Marie’s kinder, gentler Velvets nod, with its echoes of Miranda Richards’ work with BJM.
Lionel Liminana’s genius isn’t limited to absorbing cool influences. What really makes the Liminanas tick is arrangement, and in particular their deft way of making the most out of the simplest materials – New Order bass lines, strummed acoustics, washes of guitar distortion, counterpoint lines played on everything from cheap electric organs to bouzouki to banjo. The production on tracks like “Alicante,” “Cold was the Ground (a Holly Golightly-like dirge, stately and driven), and “Rosas” are characterized by a dub-like approach, borrowed from reggae studio wizardry – arrangements build, instruments drop out, then return, sometimes calling attention to a particular vocal passage, often in recitative.
Costa Blanca is a more complex, layered production than Crystal Anis. While the latter had a direct, minimal, rocking appeal, Costa feels like soundtrack as lifestyle statement. The Terry Reid “Super Lungs” bounce of “Votre Cote Yé-yé M’ennerde,” with its Franco-Nuggets sound, contrasts with “BB’s” menacing seduction and incantation (built on a melody borrowed from “Jesus Christ Superstar”). Meanwhile, “Liverpool” takes ostrich guitar tuning a la Lou Reed, combining it with Indian drone for a pumping danceable variation on “Black Angel’s Death Song.”
The more the Liminanas develop their vision, the more its origins stand firm. As French provincials, hailing from Perpignan, not Paris, they maintain an outsider’s combination of critical ear and romantic attachment. Trading on the seductive sounds of the cultural capitals (New York and Paris, principally) the Liminanas craft a universal soundtrack of chic cool, but a cool with menace (the dirty romanticism of “BB”), and flippant disdain (the dismissive Yé-yé “fuck you” of “Votre’s “universal garage-rock groove). For while Costa Blanca superficially suggests a trip to some Euro-trash mall outlet, listen closer and you hear a dark, subversive critique.
DOWNLOAD: “La Mercedes de couleur gris metallise,” “Liverpool”