Twitter Facebook
  Reviews | Gig Listings
Where The Oceans End
Cocoon Where The Oceans End
Released 18 March 2011
Producer Ian Caple
Label Sober & Gentle
Length 36:36
Genre Alternative, folk
Website frompandamountains.com

What is it with French music?  I mean, twenty years ago, if you mentioned that your favourite band were French, you’d have been laughed out of town. For the majority of individuals, French music was synonymous with chin-stroking jazz and Johnny Hallyday. Fast forward a decade or two, and the merest hint of Gallic influence on a new release and they’re automatically darlings of the critics and the epitome of all that is fresh, new, modern, and most importantly, cool. Maybe it was Daft Punk. Maybe it was Moon Safari. But at some point, things changed.

Cocoon symbolise the profound changes that have taken place in the record buying public’s perception of French music. Where The Oceans End, the second full-length offering from folk duo Mark Daumail and Morgane Imbeaud is exactly the type of album that will, I guarantee, garner more positive reviews and receive a kinder reception because of its country of origin. If this album was made in the UK, it wouldn’t get half the attention. But it’s not just perception. There is a specific quality that this album has, that a lot French releases of recent times have had, that pushes it beyond. It’s hard to put one’s finger on what this certain quality is. It’s almost like the ability to take a genre (in this case, folk) that has been seemingly done to death and somehow find a new angle to it; to repackage it in a way that is distinctive, and, most importantly, fresh.

Where The Oceans End is the Gallic two-piece’s follow up to 2007’s My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash, which was a surprise hit, selling over 100,000 copies, mainly across continental Europe. Their PR machine flags this sophomore effort up as “a more ambitious work, a beautiful fantasia with the sea one of its central motifs”. So far, so intriguing. They go on to describe how Mark and Morgane “imagined the story of a whale named Yum Yum embarking with the band on a journey in which each song would constitute a stage”. Right.

The challenge of this album (and any ‘concept’ album) is just how far you want to buy into the whole concept, or whether you’re simply satisfied to sit back and enjoy the tunes without bothering yourself too much with trying to work out what the hell is going on. The good news is that this collection is rich enough melodically to keep the casual listener interested, regardless of how deep you feel you want to delve into the pair’s subconscious.

From the outset, Cocoon establish a pattern of acoustic arpeggios, shuffling percussion with hints of string, piano and organ accompaniment, all underpinned by wonderfully intricate vocal interplay. The musical landscape is one of understated beauty, but that isn’t to say that the duo lack pop sensibilities: 'Comets' bursts into life with a chorus as joyful and infectious as anything you’re likely to hear this year. Its country-infused folk certainly deserves a wider audience, as does 'Dee Doo', which opens with a sublime piano motif building to a fanfare complete with mariachi-style horns and sumptuous strings. It is no exaggeration to say that it wouldn’t be out of place on an album by a certain Canadian band currently playing to sold-out arenas around the globe (I’m not talking about Rush).

Cocoon’s influences are manifold, and varied: there are hints of Belle and Sebastian alongside touches of Air and Sufjan Stevens. Stylistically, though, the real touchstone, intentional or not, is Kings of Convenience, and their minimalistic, ultra-modern reimagining of folk. Few of the songs on this beguiling collection outstay their welcome and the fleeting nature of some of the tracks only serves to add to the bewitching, dreamlike atmosphere of the album as whole: there is a misty sheen enveloping the entire work, enticing the listener to get comfortable, all the while skilfully balancing on the fine line between chilled-out folk and the more ghastly crimes of easy listening. Cocoon pull it off, just about.

- Ken O’Meara