P arisian combo Tahiti 80 are fully aware that the success of fellow Frenchmen Air and Daft Punk could frustrate their emergence on the world stage more than help it.
While it's nice that France is on the map for more than just wine, foie gras and snotty shop clerks, Air's swooshy electronic excursions and Daft Punk's gonzo sonic assaults don't exactly point in Tahiti 80's knock-kneed, fuchsia-pretty pop direction.
In fact, when singer/songwriter Xavier Boyer announces, without a hint of irony, that he sees yellow butterflies when he looks into your eyes, as he does on the opening track of Tahiti 80's Puzzle debut, you just know there's not going to be an accompanying video of a guy on crutches wearing a dog mask. Slo-mo prancing through poppy fields is more like it.
Fittingly, the lush and lovely Puzzle is delivered in English, the language of the quartet's most beloved influences -- the British and the Americans in general, the Beatles and Kinks in particular.
Recorded in New York and mixed in Sweden by Tore Johansson -- who, not coincidentally, also worked with Tahiti 80 kindred spirits the Cardigans -- Puzzle could pass as a supremely well-crafted 60s album filled with sha-la-la choruses and plenty of plinky organ were it not for the Web address listed in the liner notes.
Air raid "When we were making the album, a guy came into the recording booth as we were listening to the song Swimming Suit and said, 'Wow, that's really good. It sounds like Air,'" Boyer chuckles good-naturedly from his Paris flat. The group hosts Lee's Wednesday.
"So maybe because we were French he thought of the only French band he knew. I think we have more in common with bands from the UK, and maybe Sweden and Belgium. We have a French way of making music, but our influences are not French at all."
Which may explain why the group has gone over so well on the paradise isle of pure pop -- Japan. With a ringing endorsement from Shibuya-kei pop prankster Cornelius and record-label association with Kahimie Karie, Tahiti 80 have already played Japan twice this year, and return in October.
"We're topping the charts there," Boyer confirms. "So many people came to our in-stores that a guy who worked there told me he hadn't seen anything like it since James Brown.
"The Japanese are just so curious about music. You can find anything in the record stores.
"We don't have pop culture in France to speak of," Boyer adds, "so we're free to pick up the best elements in all the pop music scenes all over the world. I think that's what makes us sound different."
Boyer admits that his singing in English has made getting airplay in the old country a struggle for the band. It's the law that 40 per cent of music on the radio must be sung in French, leaving Tahiti 80 to duke it out with the Bon Jovis, Janet Jacksons and Britney Spears of the world for the remaining airtime.
Apparently, that's a small-potato challenge compared to what awaits Tahiti 80 in Canada -- playing in language-obsessed Quebec.
"I think it's going to be strange singing in English for a French audience in Quebec," Boyer says nervously. "Maybe they'll insult us. Maybe we shouldn't play there after all. I mean, we'll speak French between the songs, and Celine Dion now sings in English... right?
"I'd better try to point that out before someone punches me."
TAHITI 80, with DAN BRYK, at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (September 13). $10. 532-1598.