Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deep Forest - Boheme (Original TC Review)

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Sony Music Entertainment: Cat. # BK 67115
Released 1995

Track List:
1. Anasthasia (1:48)
2. Bohemian Ballet (5:15)
3. Marta’s Song (4:13)
4. Gathering (4:39)
5. Lament (3:09)
6. Bulgarian Melody (3:09)
7. Deep Folk Song (1:13)
8. Freedom Cry (3:17)
9. Twosome (4:06)
10. Cafe Europa (4:17)
11. Katharina (2:53)
12. Boheme (4:37)


(2010 Update:
When I think about it, this has become an unfairly slept on record.
Boheme was so far ahead of its time, what with the rise of 'Chilean goat farmer' techno the last couple years. This is, like, The Man-Machine of the genre! Heh, okay, seriously Deep Forest's sophomore has held up in a funny sort of way. I've still yet to hear anyone else sound like this album, melding such disparate cultures into some rather fine songs.)


IN BRIEF: The birth of Bulgarian Folk EDM.

This may be hard to believe given what hindsight reveals, but Deep Forest was at one time considered just as high profile as Enigma. When the ‘ethno-pop’ craze of the early 90s had adult contemporary crowds all abuzz, Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez’ project offered a bit of variation to the formula: Cretu may have brought the Gregorian monks, but Deep Forest brought the African pygmies. I’m not certain if they were the very first to do this, but their hit Sweet Lullaby certainly made them the most popular. And, by being lumped into the world beat fold along with Enigma, their profile only grew, the two acts practically joined at the hip in the public eye even if their sounds really weren’t that similar.

When Cretu proved he could beat the sophomore slump with The Cross Of Changes, many wondered if Deep Forest would be able to accomplish the same. Unfortunately, Mouquet and Sanchez had two things working against them: first off, despite Enigma’s Return To Innocence sustaining the scene a little longer, ‘ethno-pop’ had all but fizzled out by the time Deep Forest did release a follow-up to their self-titled debut; secondly, their muses had drifted to a completely different continent from the one that earned them their initial fanbase.

Boheme starts unassumingly enough, mind. The opening intro track, Anasthasia, is a moody little number. Grumbling bass, bits of woodwinds, and synthy washes make up the bulk as some faint chants echo in the background. However, if you are coming into this release with their pygmy styling being your initial exposure (and I’d wager many do, considering it’s those songs that still get the most compilation duty even today), you’ll undoubtedly notice there’s a different feel here. Almost folkish rather than tribal, but the origins may not be apparent as of yet.

Bohemian Ballet will give you your answer, and probably set your impression of this album for good. It has a synthy start as handclaps bring the pace up. Very soon, you hear an emphatic “Babam!” chant, the ethnic source being... Hungarian!

Yes folks, Deep Forest had decided to wander the far east of Europe for their inspiration, a move leaving many confused. After all, what did gypsy music have in common with pygmy chants? Hardly anything, to be honest, and that’s kind of the point. Mouquet and Sanchez were far more interested in exploring other cultures instead of re-hashing the same ideas that made them popular. The bigger question is whether they succeeded in this regard.

Well, Bohemian Ballet is kind of a miss. I can hear what they were going for, using the gypsy songs to complement a decent bit of house music. The mysterious atmosphere generated by pads and woodwinds certainly lends itself to the nature of gypsy mysticism, but things don’t quite gel. The “Babam!” chants sound out of sync with the straight-forward 4/4 music going on.

Marta’s Song features the vocal talents of Marta Sebestyen, who’s traditional Transylvanian singing was what inspired Deep Forest to pursue this avenue in Boheme. It’s a quaint tune, and Marta certainly has a fine voice (even if I don’t understand the lyrics, but that’s never stopped folks from enjoying world music anyways), but the folkish nature of this track may be off-putting to some if you came looking for typical dance music.

Returning to the mysterious gypsy front is Gathering, which comes off far better than Bohemian Ballet for this sort of thing. Whereas the club beats in the former sounded out of place, the more lethargic pace of this track creates the feeling of an enchanted, um, gathering, er, deep in the forest. Okay, so Deep Forest managed to title this track so appropriately, I don’t need to describe it much further. What matters is the haunting vocal samples and musical backdrop provided for them work, even if you aren’t quite hip to that whole gypsy thing.

However, if this East Europe folk styling hasn’t interested you much, then you’ll probably find this next stretch of songs a drag. To be fair, Mouquet and Sanchez do provide some intriguing pieces of music. Bookended by ominous soundscapes, Bulgarian Melody is a charming vehicle for Marta to sing a little ditty with a piano; Deep Folk Song has a fun build of stomping percussion, chants and an accordion, of all things. Lament and Freedom Cry are overflowing with traditional flavour though, and, quite frankly, isn’t for everyone. Heck, I’m at a loss as to who exactly this is for. I know Deep Forest wished to share these themes with a more contemporary crowd, but there’s a reason most folk music remains relatively isolated in their respective regions: cultural significance. Pop crowds usually can’t comprehend folk music unless it’s wrapped in a familiar theme (kind of like Deep Forest’s first release, actually).

Still, the duo do manage to provide some songs towards the latter end of Boheme which folks of any walk of life can probably get into. Twosome, again featuring Marta, is a wonderful showcase in just why the Enigma comparisons were so frequent back in the early 90s. It has all the hallmarks of your typical ‘ethno-pop’ with lovely, memorable lyrics, groovy backing rhythms, and synthy ambience to fill in the gaps, all wrapped in Deep Forest’s unique styling. Meanwhile, Cafe Europa sees the duo having their hand at club beats again, this time with the chants of American Natives and assorted folkish instruments. It’s alright, but isn’t the strongest dance track Deep Forest have ever done, and seems a bit unfocused once it gets going.

To finish the album out, Deep Forest come full circle in their sojourn of the Slavic states. Katharina is another brief instrumental akin to Anasthasia, while title-track Boheme encompasses the album’s various themes into a whole: folk songs, traditional instruments, synthy backings, and a groovy rhythm are all combined into quite the unique sounding track.

At the end of this, Boheme as an album is quite odd, especially if you approach it from typical Western fronts. Despite sometimes producing tracks which may indicate otherwise, Deep Forest has never really been a group aiming to fill dancefloors or Top 40 radiowaves (even if they did a secure a Grammy for this album, but what are those worth, eh?). Their aim has always been to explore the musical diversity our world has to offer, and attempt to blend them together. However, this idea seemed to turn off a great number of people who enjoyed their previous work in Deep Forest (later titled World Mix), which contained more Western ideas than their follow-ups; they lost all but an ardent group of fans shortly after this release, their third album Comprasa seemingly sealing the deal for the “we don’t get it” crowd.
Still, Boheme is an incredibly unique album. Whereas many producers will make use of a far East sample if it’s harmonic attributes are familiar to their own, Mouquet and Sanchez will let that sample’s native traditionalism shine through as they work around it instead. If you listen to Boheme in this regard, you’ll probably get more out of it.


Score: 6/10

ACE TRACKS:
Gathering
Twosome


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

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