Welcome to my French pop and rock section... Here are a few recommendations to albums I've enjoyed that I think you might like as well, ranging from 1960s ye-ye to a few more contemporary albums from France's blossoming indie and electronica scenes. There is also a separate section for older musical styles, such as chanson and musette, if you like the old stuff, too!
Arthur H "Arthur H" (Universal, 1991)
The first album by this French would-be avantnik... Features the song "Cool Jazz..."
Arthur H... et Le Bachibouzouk Band "En Chair Et En Os" (Polydor, 1993)
A difficult, rather irritating set of Balkan-flavored, gypsys-meet-Nick Cave, artsy-fartsy live(?) recordings... It's overly aggressive and overly shrill, and perhaps a bit overly clever as well... At any rate, it really put me on edge, an ugly collision of several styles I don't care for to begin with. Still, it's interesting to hear how radically different this material is from his later work!
Arthur H "Trouble Fete" (Universal, 1997)
Arthur H "Bachibouzouk" (Universal, 1998)
Arthur H "Pour Madame X" (Universal, 2000)
Arthur H "Piano Solo" (Universal, 2002)
Indeed, here is Mssr. H, playing and singing solo, accompanied only on the piano... And, for me, it's a much more engaging, satisfying sound, hewing more closely to French cabaret traditions, calmer and more resonant than his more heavily orchestrated, more manic albums with a full band. Definitely worth checking out!
Arthur H "Negresse Blanche" (Polydor, 2003)
Overly clever, overly studious, overly slavish in its icy cool emulation of the Serge Gainsbourg formula, this album is well constructed but, frankly, a bit of a drag and a bit of a bore. He touches on all the same points, the same musical eclecticism, forced into the same rigid constructions, with similar ironies and pop culture references (song titles include "Bo Derek," "Tarzan And Jane," "Marilyn Kaddish," etc...) I guess this is an effective extension of Gainsbourg's work, but it still seemed to come up as a null set to me.
Arthur H "Adieu Tristesse" (Universal, 2005)
Arthur H "Show Time" (Universal, 2006)
A live album...
Johnny Hallyday - see artist profile
Francoise Hardy - see artist profile
Helena "Azul" (Sunnyside/Universal, 2003)
Helena "Nee Dans La Nature" (Sunnyside/Universal, 2005)
Helena "Fraise Vanille" (Sunnyside/Universal, 2007)
Helena "Bang! Dillinger Girl & Baby Face Nelson" (Universal France/Sunnyside, 2007)
Strummy-strummy acoustic nothings from Belgian indie-popster Helena Noguerra and Federico Pellegrini (from the band Little Rabbits), who resurrect the playful, silly DIY spirit of the early-1990's lo-fi twee scene, kinda like Tracey Thorn paired up with Daniel Johnston. These are cutesy, goofy songs built on simple hooks -- most seem ephemeral while others are impossibly pretentious, but some, like "Share," plunge down to unexpected and satisfying depths. Unfortunately, it's mostly sung in English, which serves to accentuate the sense of disposability and artistic self-absorption; Helena only sings in French in a couple of spots (the song "Love" is in French, and sounds more fun) and though this disc didn't really do much for me, I am curious to hear what she's done on her French-language releases. Not my cup of tea, but it might be a cult fave for just the right kind of folk-freak fan.
Cecile Hercule "La Tete A L'Envers" (2010)
Gillian Hills "Pour La Premiere" (Universal/Barclay, 1960)
A minor starlet who appeared in films such as Beat Girl, Blow Up and A Clockwork Orange (often in brief, steamy cameos), Gillian Hills lived in the long shadow of Brigitte Bardot, to whom he was often compared. But as a pioneering ye-ye rocker, Hills is almost criminally neglected by the musical hipoisie -- her recordings more than hold their own against other '60s femme icons. Bardot and others, such as Sylvie Vartan and France Gall, were gimmicky musicians, easily seen as mere instruments for opportunistic arrangers and record producers to cash in on a goofy rock fad. Hills sings rock music with much more conviction and genuine joie de vivre, and these old recordings are consistently fun to listen to, from start to finish. She was also in at the beginning: this 1960 album preceded work by Gall, Vartan and others, including male rockers such as Johnny Hallyday and Jacques Dutronc. It's a good time! C'est bon!
Gillian Hills "Twistin' The Rock" (Universal, 2006)
An awesome 2-CD set that includes all ten songs on the Pour Le Premiere album listed above... and a bunch of other equally-groovy girl-group rock. This is a killer collection, well worth tracking down. As mentioned above, Hills really threw herself into rock music in a way that few '60s French pop stars were capable of... She also wrote a lot of her own material, and while she didn't have the same depth as Francoise Hardy, she also had a giddier, happier style. More remarkable, still, is the fact that she didn't slide into soft-pop vocals after an initial flirtation with more upbeat rock music (which is the usual pattern for oh-so-many European stars...) This 33-song collection is surprisingly consistent, with punchy arrangements and strong backbeats behind Hills' lively voice. More delicious still is how Hills sounds sincerely committed to the rock'n'roll sound, and how much fun she was having. It's contagious, too -- well worth checking out!
Holden "L'Arriere Monde" (Virgin-Lithium, 1999)
Holden "Pedrolira" (Sony-BMG, 2002)
Holden "Chevrotine" (Le Village Vert, 2006)
Holden "La Machine" (2008)
Holden "L'Essential" (Watusa, 2011)
Nancy Holloway "Tendres Anness 60" (Universal, 2003)
Yeesh. A French pop approximation of the American girl-group sound, with sometimes-fun arrangements marred by terrible, sub-par vocals. The husky-voiced Ms. Holloway -- an American emigre from Cleveland -- was a clumsy stylist who had trouble staying in tune or wrapping herself around French phrasing, and while there is some kitsch value to these vintage 1963-65 recordings, for the most part it isn't enough to make it worthwhile. (I actually find this rather unpleasant to listen to...) Several covers of American hits, but not nearly the same fun factor as other, better ye-ye recordings. Save your money -- this was just an attempt to cash in, and it doesn't hold up.
Nancy Holloway "Portrait: 1961-1974" (Magic, 2008)
Nancy Holloway "Bye Bye" (Magic, 1999)
Hugo "La Formule" (1996)
Hugo "La Nuit Des Balancoires" (Crammed Disc, 2005)
Nice! An appealing indie-pop album by inventive multi-instrumentalist Hugo Chastanet... This has a nice emphasis on melody for the sake of melody and several really catchy, playful numbers. I wish he'd record more acoustic material like the song "La Collection," which I'd heard on a Crammed Disc compilation album. My favorite track on here is the hypnotic, beautifully repetitive "Le Gout De Toi," which has an impassioned folk-pop feel. The rest of the album is nice as well -- perhaps fans of Matthew Sweet or Ron Sexsmith will find a kindred soul here?
Hugo "Je Suis Dans Un Train" (2013)
Romain Humeau "L'Eternite De L'Instant" (EMI, 2005)
Solo album by the singer-guitarist of the hard rock/alt-punk band, Eiffel. An earnest effort with grinding guitars and anguished vocals, as well as more subtlety and less punkish bashing about than on the later Eiffel albums. Sort of U2-ish, I suppose. Some softer songs as well, notably the acoustic "Toi" and the arty, free-jazzish title track. This could be seen as a return to the band's Pixies-ish roots, although it's mostly a pretty tedious record. It's decent, I suppose, but nothing I feel the need to come back to,
Sophie Hunter & Guy Chambers "The Isis Project" (Sleeper, 2006)
With lyrics by Keren Ann Zeidelthe...
French Music Index
French Chanson & Musette