Words by Gareth Thompson
St Hippolyte Du Fort in southern France lies almost due north of Montpellier. (Hippo Lite… you get it?) Trace a line south-east from there and you’ll land in Aix-en-Provence, where Nick Drake spent some of his happier times, smoking and busking. Drake once recorded with the French chanteuse Françoise Hardy, though their actual work has never been recovered. It’s worth a mention here as this new album from Drinks rather channels something of Hardy’s spirit.
‘Hippo Lite‘ is the second outing from Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley, following their 2015 effort ‘Hermits On Holiday‘. Recorded in the aforementioned French village, it offers more ragged guitars, scattered beats and brittle vocals with a touch of whimsy. A post-punk narrative, adding splashes of psych pop, ‘Hippo Lite‘ bears the spirit of its Languedoc-Roussillon setting. The duo spent a month in an old mill there, making music each day after a dip in the river and cold beers at the village square. It’s unlikely they expect our sympathy, but at least the end product is noteworthy.
Françoise Hardy was also no stranger to messing with music’s DNA. Rising above her yé-yé pop origins, by 1964 she was singing over gnarled guitars and moving into soft psych realms. Le Bon’s voice is more stagey than sultry like Hardy’s, but the two now share a real French connection.
Each track fairly shimmers with rural heat, using scrawny guitars and even a recording of frogs to set the scene. Opening cut “Blue From The Dark” features what might be typewriter chatter amid a clatter of domestic sounds. “Real Outside” is zany pop with wiry licks drawn straight from Le Bon’s solo work. Again the chaos of nature is captured on a riff that croaks like an insistent animal call. “Greasing Up” is all rustic pluckings and parping keyboard, as if something uncanny’s happening in the woodshed. The bubbly “Corner Shops” finds Le Bon singing ‘I’m on a wheel, turning around’ like a carefree child doing handstands.
‘Hippo Lite‘ keeps probing our senses, as rickety instrumentals evoke old rooms being unlocked after years of neglect. It’s a rambling shamble of sound as befits such a crumbling location. There’s the deranged cooing of “Ducks”, or Presley going all Syd Barrett during “Leave The Lights On”. Finally we reach “You Could Be Better” which gets seriously 60’s with its nursery chorus and nonsense rhymes.
In this mysterious French place, Drinks say they had a flock of bats over for dinner some nights. They don’t let on if these mammals enjoyed the sonic echoes from each day’s recording session. But you surely will.
‘Hippo Lite’ was released 20th April 2018, purchase the album here
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