The French group Odessey & Oracle sound incredibly unique.
On their recent album Crocorama, the musicians behind this project combine sounds including familiar elements like a guitar and bass alongside a harp, banjo, oboe, trumpet, synths from decades past, and more. Rather than presenting a particularly avant-garde musical structure, the entirety of Crocorama flows with a relatively easy-going pop music-like vibe. The melodies feel concise and poignant, and the performances feel quite solid. There’s not really a sense of uncertainty — instead, the music feels immersed in a sense of metaphysical wonder.
Fundamentally, the instrumentals themselves feel like they’re telling a story of moving through some unfamiliar yet vibrant town square and taking in the sights — but the lyrics, which are in French with English translations provided by the group on Bandcamp, complete this story in a way that listeners might not expect. “Je suis L’Endormie,” for instance, appears to be from the perspective of a corpse — “Enclosed in a Ivy corset/ Sewing my eyelids/ How well they know/ to make me a stranger,” the group’s vocalist Fanny L’Héritier sings, in translation. The central figure is also “coated with an ancient balm.”
Not even L’Héritier’s tone fully lays out the nature of her words — she sings with a subtly bright and gentle force, like wind slowly moving through some trees, as the instrumentals consistently stick to a similar feeling.
The feelings of L’Héritier’s lyrics are definitely palpable within the instrumentals, no matter any slight sense of misdirection. None of the songs that Odessey & Oracle present on Crocorama feel as though they float free of any kind of earthly concerns. Instead, the music feels quite grounded and emotionally resonant, and the central placement of the group’s melodies aptly helps with this sense.
The songs feel smoothly focused on their central ideas, and occasionally, when the group’s tempo slows, these ideas feel somewhat somber, or at least contemplative. Fittingly, “Je suis L’Endormie” is one of the tracks where this solemnity seem in focus, as the song ends with, among other elements, drawn out trumpet tones. “Crocorama” and “Les Enfants” also seem comparatively restrained, but the music remains steady.
Although this sense of self-reflection in the music seems relatively unmistakable, there’s also an unmissable sense of exuberance in the sound. The music feels thoroughly bright — none of the tones feel particularly harsh or blustery, and instead, the rhythms seem like gentle bursts of rain on a relentlessly sunny day. Sometimes, like on the particularly brisk “Mascara,” the instrumentals feel jubilant. The music feels like smiling through turmoil or like basking in sunlight after a storm, and Odessey & Oracle seem to poignantly reflect a quiet inner ambition to keep exploring, like a tour guide showing the way to a world of beauty.
Besides lyrics, L’Héritier also handles electric pianos and analog keyboards on Crocorama, and the album also features Alice Baudoin on the harpsichord, positive pipe organ, recorders, and baroque oboe; Guillaume Médioni on guitars, banjo, bass guitar, analog synthesizers and vocals; and Roméo Monteiro on percussion. The record also features guest performances from drummer Josselin Varengo, flutist Mathilde Bouillot, and trumpeter Gilles Poizat.
Scroll down for a Q & A with Odessey & Oracle about their new record!
Listen to Crocorama below!
Read the full Q & A with Odessey & Oracle below!
The Core of Crocorama
Captured Howls: Thanks for your time! Crocorama is very compelling. From my perspective, there’s a somewhat stark contrast between the moods of the instrumentals and lyrics, which makes the record sit in a uniquely poignant emotional place. The instrumentals, of course, often seem rather bright, while the lyrics don’t always carry the same feeling. On a broad level, where do you feel like the emotional core of the album sits? How would you describe any guiding threads that run through the album?
Odessey & Oracle: With this album, Crocorama, we wanted to present original, inventive and surprising songs. As for the lyrics, we chose to express things that touched us, in particular not very funny current issues such as barbarism, capitalist violence, patriarchy, police violence… The option of illustrating these texts with dark instrumentals seemed less interesting to us than playing the card of the opposite and contrast. It also gives rise to a glimmer of hope facing these sordid things that we denounce.
Putting the Music Together
CH: In more of a nuts-and-bolts sense, how did the songs on this album tend to come together? In other words, did you set out intending to explore particular lyrical themes, particular sounds, or maybe some of both?
O&O: Unlike our previous album (Speculatio) which had a theme present throughout the disc (the power of money and its misdeeds), this one was conceived as a repertoire of songs without a prior link between the ones and the others (like pop albums rather than a concept album). However, themes are recurring in the lyrics and the compositions also respond to issues that went through us at the time of writing: our goal was to go as far as possible in the context of a pop song. At the end, we have the impression of a common thread even if it was not initially sought.
CH: As for the particular sounds of the record, I saw in the Bandcamp notes that all keyboards and synths on the record are apparently from at least the ‘80s, if not earlier. In the sound of these instruments, and even in the cover art, there’s a bit of a retro vibe. Although I see on Bandcamp that this record is not the first time that you’ve used older instruments, what sparked your interest in those older synths? What’s your history like with the instruments?
O&O: We love and use old instruments, indeed. There are also very old instruments such as the harpsichord or the viola da gamba which refer to the baroque period and to music that we know well and from which we draw inspiration, including in a pop context, as well as instruments that could be called “vintage,” dating from the 60s and 70s, which excite us a lot in their sound and inspire us.
However, despite a few winks sometimes, we have no intention at all to make revival music or sound vintage, it’s just that the sound of electromechanical pianos, analog synthesizers or old amps is so much more beautiful and rich!
CH: In terms of the songs and their structures as a whole, there’s a lot of uniqueness in there. I’m not sure that I have ever heard anything that sounds quite like Crocorama, personally. Are there particular sources of inspiration from which you drew for the songwriting process? What are some of the themes and principles that tended to go through your minds when putting together the tracks?
O&O: Thank you! We like to surprise the listener… The challenge, for us, is to invent original melodies, to offer unexpected harmonies, personal sounds without falling into “experimental” music that no one will listen to and which will remain in very closed circles of “insiders.”
On the contrary, bringing experimentation into popular music is something that appeals to us. Of course, this is not new and some artists have shown us the way: Brian Wilson, Brazilian pop music from the 70s (Caetano Veloso, Som Imaginarios, Clube da Esquina…), White Noise, The United States of America, 10cc… Many other musics nourish us but it is this approach, in particular, which interests us.
CH: Where did you tend to get inspiration for the lyrics? I Googled “Antoine Rouge” and “Ferdinand the Albigensian” — but Google wasn’t particularly helpful, if those are based on real-world events. The lyrical stories are consistently very compelling.
O&O: The characters on the album are fictitious haha… Any resemblance to real facts or people is purely coincidental.
However, we are inspired by reality and as if by magic, Antoine Rouge (character from David Cronenberg’s film, Crimes of the Future) becomes, in our song, a vagrant who watches over a suburban neighborhood where he witnesses police violence. Ferdinand L’Albigeois was inspired by the repression of the Cathars in the South of France by the inquisitors of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.
Each time, the story does not take the form of documentary testimony but of allegorical fiction. This is also the case with “Crocorama” where crocodiles are a metaphor for capitalists. “Les Enfants” echoes the repression of high school social movements in France in 2018.
CH: What music have you all been connecting with lately? Throughout recent weeks and months, what have you been listening to?
O&O: In these gloomy times, we need a little comfort, sunshine and hope.
Lately, we’ve been listening a lot to Cuban artists from the 70s and 80s like Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodriguez who are incredible pop composers with fantastic arrangements and lyrics that speak of love and revolution.
And for dancing, nothing beats a good Jackson 5 haha!