Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Press Color (Special Edition)
(Light In The Attic)
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
The New York City lower Manhattan music scene circa the late 70s was a bubbling, effervescent confluence of disco, No Wave, jazz and punk. It birthed the careers of Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Television, the Ramones and even Don Was, whose Was (Not Was) band was also a player. Somewhere on the fringes was Lizzy Mercier Descloux, a French import who used music as just one aspect of her artistic avant-garde arsenal which also included poetry and fashion. This reissue of her off-the-radar ZE label debut didn’t make much of a splash upon its 1979 release. Regardless, it has come to be regarded as a charming, evocative curio of a time and place that was fleeting and temporal yet fascinating and influential in its ambitious attempt to join jazz, punk and dance.
Originally only eight selections clocking in at under 30 minutes, the reissue more than doubles that and is still only 46 minutes long. Extensive liner notes by noted critic/scenester Vivien Goldman in a sumptuous 20 page booklet tell the Descloux story in detail with rare photos and quotes from Smith and Richard Hell, both of whom were friends.
These minimalist pieces—many can’t be considered songs– were often improvised in the studio and Descloux who spoke virtually no English, wasn’t exactly a driven vocal talent. Nonetheless it’s the air of cool detached ambiance with mostly sung/spoken vocals over a funk/jazz backing that makes this such a mesmerizing time capsule. Descloux doesn’t even sing on a handful of selections, specifically the theme to “Mission Impossible,” here in two versions that deconstruct the original in unique and unusual ways. As on the vinyl, there are no musician credits, likely because the nascent label wasn’t quite sure who played what and when. Such was the nature of the time and the two sleepless weeks it took for this recording to materialize. Much of it seems like skeletal sketches meant to be fleshed out later, especially the 6 tracks that don’t even break the two minute mark. That’s part of the allure of music created in a free form environment. The stripped down funk/jazz groove and Descloux’s broken English/French vocals create an odd yet hypnotic atmosphere that feels more cohesive after the opening disco/Latin cover of Arthur Brown’s psycho weirded-out hit “Fire,” probably Descloux’s most recognizable song. Those interested can check out a peculiar lip-synched video on YouTube.
It’s all very much an artifact of its short era and is best appreciated as such. But Press Color captures a vibrant moment in New York City’s historically rich music history that can never be replicated. Even with its obvious flaws and retro vibe, it still feels creative, pulsating and oddly inspirational.