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Album Review: Charlotte Gainsbourg, "IRM"

By Bill Friskics-Warren

Inspired by the series of MRI procedures she underwent after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage from a waterskiing mishap, Gainsbourg's new album is a sonic departure from its 2006 predecessor "5:55." While that record featured the lush electronics of the French duo Air, "IRM" employs a minimalist approach to evoke the chill and anxiety often associated with medical technology and hospitals. (IRM is the French acronym for magnetic resonance imaging.)

(In good hands with Beck at the helm, after the jump.)

The music here is typically disjointed yet catchy, all of it composed by Beck, the album's mixer and producer. Relying on skittering, ping-ponging rhythms, "Master's Hand" and the title track recall the work of Brian Eno and the Welsh post-punk band Young Marble Giants. "Le Chat du Café des Artistes" adds flourishes of trippy ambiance, while "In the End," a gauzy ballad, darkens the Sunshine pop of the late '60s with clouds of foreboding. "Tricky Pony" is the sort of shambling, elliptical blues that Beck first perfected on his 1994 breakthrough album "Mellow Gold."

He and Gainsbourg collaborated on all of "IRM's" lyrics, many of which are wry and associative, making for an easy fit with her natural half-sung, half-spoken vocals. "We're all fine, we're all fine / We fit together like nickels on a dime," the two of them chant to the frenetic beats of one track. "Hold still, press a button / Looking through a glass onion," Gainsbourg muses over the mechanical cadence of another. For all its emphasis on the cold and the clinical, the arrangements are engaging and affecting throughout, as is Gainsbourg's breathy delivery.

Recommended tracks: "IRM," "In the End," "Le Chat du Café des Artistes"

By David Malitz  |  January 26, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags: Charlotte Gainsbourg  
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