April March at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (January 28). $7 advance. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
As a mild-mannered professional illustrator, Elinor Blake spent much of the past decade as a principal animator for Spumco's playfully obscene Ren & Stimpy cartoons by day, while donning her French ye-ye superheroine identity, April March, by night. When Blake's animation contract was up, she went into deep, child-bearing cover as the spouse of Del Fuegos main man Warren Zanes and has been living a quiet life of picket-fence domesticity at an undisclosed location in Ohio until just recently.
To Blake's neighbours, the three huge bluish clouds that appeared one night in the eastern sky didn't seem any different from the pollution belched daily from the incinerator next door, but Blake knew it was something else. The bluish puffs of Gitanes smoke were a signal from her Paris-based musical collaborator, Bertrand Burgalat, that the time had come to return to the recording studio.
Together they conspired to create the Triggers (PIAS/Beggars Group) album, synthesizing all of Blake's sonic influences, from the 60s Gallic grooves of Gillian Hills and France Gall to the early 80s Latin-electro buzz of ESG and Sweet Sensation, into April March's crowning achievement.
It's a sweetly sophisticated and remarkably modern-sounding update of the whole ye-ye thing, leaving the baggage of nostalgia and exoticism behind.
In France, Triggers will likely be hailed as one of the first great achievements of 21st-century art. But back home in the U.S., people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that some of the album's songs are sung in French and others in English.
"Most people here want to know why I'm so fascinated by French culture," says Blake from her Ohio hideaway. "Writers in the U.S. keep talking about my singing in 'another language' as if it's strange and exotic, which is puzzling to me because the majority of people in the U.S. speak a second language - it's the minority who only speak English."
Ever since France decided against supporting the U.S. government's plan to invade Iraq, an anti-French backlash has been stirring in America, from the dumping of wines to the appearance of "freedom fries" on some restaurant menus.
So far, Blake hasn't experienced any of the negative fallout first-hand, but she's understandably concerned about the soured relations between the U.S. and France.
"Just hearing about all that stuff really saddens me. People laugh about the freedom fries thing, but it's serious stuff.
"Behind the anti-French jokes is something very troubling and dangerous. Xenophobia is a deadly human instinct. That whole fear of outsiders or anyone who's seen as different can be very destructive, and I think we need to deal with that."