Topette!! – Bourdon
Self Released – 25 April 2022
The five-piece anglo-French dance band Topette!! has reached the “difficult third album” stage, but while there are undeniable signs of change and musical progression, the definitive Topette!! trademarks are still present in abundance.
Adorned with distinctive artwork in the now-familiar Topette!! house-style, Bourdon is clearly fashioned from the same cloth as the band’s previous albums, C’est Le Pompon and Rhododendron. And hurrah! The key features of the Topette!! sound are intact and present in all their glory. Notably, the special blend of instrumental timbres, which, when joyously carried aloft in the signature vigorously driven yet expertly controlled playing style, makes for a band sound that is literally unique (not an easy word to live up to!).
Topette!! describes itself (and very accurately too, I’d say!) as “a true collective – bonded as much by the joy found in each other’s company as in their shared musical vision”. Eight years of making music together as a unit has consolidated this vision into a force to be reckoned with. And not even a lengthy enforced hiatus (since their last pre-pandemic gig in December 2019) has dimmed their fire, for the new album was recorded by producer Joe Garcia in just four days! The winning “Team Topette!!” lineup emerges unscathed: the ideally matched, tightly united front-line powerhouse combo of fiddle/viola ace James Delarre and diatonic accordion/melodeon man Andy Cutting, sparring off against or in tandem with Julien Cartonnet’s bagpipes and banjo, against which pounds the overwhelmingly “present” engine-room of Tania Buisse’s driving bodhrán and Barn Stradling’s unmistakable, earth-shakingly inventive bass lines that so compellingly combine the qualities of depth and breadth. The Topette!! sound enters your skull and penetrates, burrowing deep and never loosening its grip that proves irresistible to both feet and brain.
I might mention in passing that the first sound you hear on putting the disc in the player is, fittingly enough, the buzzing drone of a bumblebee – the French word bourdon doing double duty as a bumblebee and a bagpipe drone. The insect drone (on the note D, not the half-expected B, I hasten to add!) morphs into the instrumental drone and takes flight on the insistent rhythms of Just Heavy, a Stradling tune based on the Rond de St. Vincent, “blinking in the morning sun after the long hibernation”. It’s clear that once again, the band members are audibly rejoicing in the opportunity to play together, their careful yet wholly instinctive interaction demonstrating a special bond and level of musicianship that makes a virtue – and celebrates virtuosity – out of a less frantic delivery. Even when they later crank up the tempo, as on the glorious track 4 set that conjoins polka, hoedown and halling (yes, really!), there’s no sense of undue fluster or impetuousness.
Barn coaxes the mightiest of sounds from his acoustic bass guitar while there’s ample light and shade on the swinging, melody-rich Mazurka à Lucas/Pierre Tanneux medley (track 3). James’s composition JLP makes the most of a close-linked fiddle and bagpipe drone-based melody, out of which arises Barn’s insistent pulsing syncopated rhythm that proceeds to drive the pairing of the lively Winstanley’s with the more eccentric Les Trois Canards, a tune by legendary French musician Bernard Blanc. The delectable fiddle’n’banjo-led morris medley at track 7 (The Blue Eyed Stranger ushered in by a juicy original tune by Barn, Clanders Batch) is probably my favourite track for replay, and its mega-present bass and bodhrán riff indisputably reaches the parts other dance bands can’t reach (if you get my drift!).
There’s a kind of gawky cajun feel to Topette!!’s take on Michael Hurley’s Hog Of The Forsaken. The CD’s finale La Couturière, which borrows its melody from an old French folksong about murder and incest, takes the form of a rather sombre, slightly sinister bagpipe-led processional-cum-lament: not exactly what the rest of the album might lead us to expect, but none the less powerful for all that.
Time and again, I’m reminded of the website claim that Topette!! produces “music that sounds as good from an armchair as it does in the middle of a packed festival dance tent”, such is its immediacy. This immediacy works on several levels – not something you can claim for yer average dance-music-based outfit – and the attendant sense of unity is tremendously persuasive. Bourdon is another ¾-hour’s worth of delectably intoxicating grooves that will be a battle to wrench out of your CD player once it’s been placed within.
Bourdon by TOPETTE
Bourdon is released on 25 April, pre-order via Bandcamp:
Topette!! UK Tour Dates
9th – Bristol -SouthBank Club10th – Gower Folk Festival12th – Stroud – Lansdown Hall13th – Birmingham – Centrala Space14th – N Wales – Llanfairfechan Community Hall15th – Lancaster – Gregson Centre16th – Sheffield – Crookes Club17th – Norwich – Canary Club18th – Margate Folk All-Dayer19th – London – Clapham Library