Parametric (0.16q), 2004
I’m not exactly sure what it is about French electronic music, but it always seems to carry a certain atmosphere, regardless of the time of release or genre. If music is an attempt to create an idealized portrait of reality, then I can only imagine what a French-made electronic world might be like; completely strange would be a good place to start. Not ominous, mind you; just odd. In the meantime, all I’ll need to do to get a glimpse into the bizarre window of French culture is listen to NIMP’s Development Concept for Formulation of NIMP.
Not exactly a straightforward title, is it? Fitting, as this is anything but a typical electronic album. Even the packaging is unusual: a simple metal case with the CD inside, and a small sticker on the cover with track info and a silhouette of a rather bewildered-looking robot. That’s it. French label Parametric has a reputation for releasing excellent electronic music that’s decidedly off-center, and NIMP’s effort might be the furthest-off of the lot.
NIMP, the creative moniker of Guillame Eluerd, fuses IDM, glitch, and electro to produce a collection of minimal and quirky tunes that hang together in spite of the diversity on display. “Open” starts things off with a straightforward 4/4 dancefloor beat sequence, but it’s not long before a bassline and chopped samples bring an air of nervous unease to the proceedings. It’s like discovering there’s a mischievous child at your party: keep an eye on that one; who knows what he might be up to. As the track draws to a close, we get the sense that things are skewed in NIMP’s world in a delicious manner, and our strange journey is just beginning.
“Hopalong” is well-named, for it is grounded by a wobbling, stabbing, jumping synth melody, high-pitched beeps, and a simple glitch-laced beat. “The Unexpected” slows things down, with atmospheric keys over clicks and knocks and another bleeping melody. The meaning of “Contest,” a track full of playful music-box chimes, is not readily apparent, but that’s the way Eluerd appears to operate. One of the album’s oddest and most memorable tracks is “Mm”, which uses a double “mm-mm” sample at various pitches as its core melody. “Progress Report 1” is wonderfully ironic, because it is deliberately skeletal and unfinished. When vocals break in during the second half of the darkly gleeful “Creeps” and proclaim “I’m truly sorry to hunt you down like this/I’m truly sorry if I give you the creeps,” it fits, because it doesn’t.
This is not to imply that Development Concept is just random weirdness. For all its intentionally odd structure, the album is the work of a talented musician and composer who possesses a strong sense of rhythm and melody. He could very probably record a straightforward album, and it would probably be quite good, but he can’t bring himself to submit to the normal. “The Final Boy,” for example, is a droning ode with orchestral strings, horns, and flutes that would fit perfectly into a film score, but it’s not long before Eleurd has had enough mundanity. The track ends with a series of synthetically generated sounds that gradually reveal themselves to be water, the thudding of oars, and the creaking of a boat. Things take yet another abnormal turn as the waterborne journey segues smoothly into “La Balancoire Americaine”, where the not-quite-aquatic sounds form swaths and rhythms of the music (yes, music) of the album’s closer, while what sounds like a distorted ship’s horn cranks out a forlorn little melody.
French electro can require a certain mindset to fully appreciate. In NIMP’s case, it can take a few tries before giving oneself over to Eluerd’s unique brand of peculiar electro-glitch-IDM. Even when it clicks (if it does), it’s not always fitting for one’s mood. When everything lines up, however, an album like this slips into your consciousness with ease. It’s really too bad that NIMP (along with Parametric) seems to be done making music, because this kind of wide-eyed, open-minded experimentation is always welcome. Those seeking something off-kilter but accomplished need look no further.