LES MOUCHES with bell orchestre , the woolly leaves , MC Do More Dina , DJ Kevin Hegge and films by Luis Jacob at the Music Gallery (197 John), Friday (April 16). $8. 416-204-1080. Rating: NNNNN
les mouches started out about a year and a half ago with a can of chickpeas. Owen Pallett (Jim Guthrie Band, Picastro, the Hidden Cameras) was working at the Free Times Café.
"Matt (Smith, guitar) did this gig with Rob (Gordon, drums) and Owen (Marchildon, From Fiction) and Dane the crackhead from Nova Scotia," recalls Pallett, sitting over afternoon beverages at a College Street café with Gordon (From Fiction, 8-Bit Ghost), Smith (Nifty) and Stephanie Comilang.
"They started playing this amazing free jazz sort of thing that culminated in Matt sampling the sound of opening a can of chickpeas, blending the chickpeas and serving hummus, and I just started screaming, it was so good."
So Pallett, Gordon and Smith got together.
"Matt and I just do pretty much the same thing we did that night," says Gordon, "and Owen plays his songs, but minus the chickpeas," and live, Comilang runs an overhead projector of visuals to go with the music.
They're neither francophiles nor devoted followers of Jean-Paul Sartre (and they're not flies either).
"Magali from the Phonemes suggested the name," says Pallett, "and I said, 'Yeah, that's a good name,' and later we read about the Jean-Paul Sartre connection. So I read the play, and I guess it makes sense."
There was, Pallett explains, also a gay club in the 80s in New York called Les Mouches, and les Mouches is the slang the French applied to the Nazis - whereupon the conversation fragments into pensive analysis of second-world-war France, C. S. Lewis, Porky Pig and the cultural significance of the word "Nazi."
You get the impression that Les Mouches do a significant amount of thinking, as this sort of cerebral meandering happens quite a bit when talking to the band.
On their first LP, You're Worth More To Me Than 1,000 Christians, this style of discourse translates musically into an eloquent fragmentation. A mixture of folk pop, electro-acoustic experimentation and blue-eyed soul, it ranges from barely audible melodic and melancholy lilting vocals to a cacophonic dissonant glee.
The album is nine songs about simple emotions, says Pallett, that are felt so strongly that they become ridiculous and distorted.
"Every single song is about an emotion like devotion or suicide."
"Suicide's not an emotion," corrects Comilang.
"The moment of dark depression," adds Smith.
"Nostalgia," Pallett continues.
"Joy!" from Comilang. "Romance."
"Yeah, joy," says Pallett, "romance, all these great things. And we try to take them to such an extreme that it becomes sad and ridiculous at the same time and makes the listener feel a little bit uncomfortable but they can also kind of identify with it."
A noble pursuit, and surely one of the best ways of approaching music, since, when artists are successful in this endeavour, their songs are often the ones that remain embedded in the cultural consciousness. Think rock ballads, love songs, the blues or a song like Close To You, which Les Mouches cover.
"It's so over-the-top emotionally, it's almost embarrassing to listen to," says Pallett.
Many attempt this but fail, getting too caught up in self-absorbed naval-gazing, while Les Mouches succeed with sometimes esoteric but compelling lyrics and melodies.
"We do something that a lot of people mistake for being highly conceptual," says Pallett. "It's really not. We're just making visceral music." Les Mouches feel a buzz comin' on