Camino del Sol
[Factory Benelux; 1980; r: Numero Group; 2004]
Jacques Brel, the most famous pop culture Belgian who never made a direct-to-video kickboxing feature about clones, sang in his nostalgic, sardonic paean to his Grandparents' romance, "Bruxelles":
C`était au temps où Bruxelles rêvait
C`était au temps du cinéma muet
C`était au temps où Bruxelles chantait
C`était au temps où Bruxelles bruxellait
It was the time when Brussels dreamed
It was the time of silent film
It was the time when Brussels sang
It was the time when Brussels... bruxellait.
Bruxellait. A word that Babelfish and online translation engines fail to process. Brel, unable to better describe his hometown, simply uttered, "When Brussels was Brussels, when Brussels... brusseled." Camden hipsters may be more familiar with Belgo, the Chalk Farm eatery where servers in monks' habits serve mussels, frites, and trappist ale in a cold, aluminum, industrial loft, than the Belgian stepsister of Factory Records, Factory Benelux, and its Brussels-based sister label Les Disques du Crepuscule. Though the label served as a continental dumping ground for the tour-support one-offs of major players-- like A Certain Ratio's inaugural "Shack Up" seven-inch, and later, New Order's "Touched by the Hand of God" and "Everything's Gone Green" singles-- it cultivated its own indigenous roster with groups like The Names, Minny Pops, and the massively overlooked Antena.
The Names waded in slowed Peter Hook bassline facsimiles and faux-Morrissey moaning on their Swimming LP. Minny Pops ventured into colder electro-Teutonic territory. Antena, however, macheted into theretofore (and heretofore) unexplored territory for post-punk-- namely the oddball psychedelic scene of South America. Recorded with echoing minimalism, Antena's major release, Camino del Sol, evokes dreaming, singing, charmingly off-the-mark sci-fi futurism, and the black-and-white nostalgia of Brel's Brussels. It's as beautifully outdated, yet strikingly mind-boggling and timeless, as the towering Atomium over the Expo '58 grounds.
The newly formed vinyl junkie reissue label, Numero, sniffed this truffle, and has released it between more traditional reissues of a rare soul compilation and a power-pop box set. Camino del Sol was originally a five-song twelve-inch from 1980, but was later expanded to a full-length by Crepuscule in 1982 with added singles. This reissue further expands the release with the "Seaside Weekend" single, two unreleased tracks ("Frantz" and "Ingenuous"), and new artwork. With any justice, it will bring new light to a lost gem, as similar reissues did for Os Mutantes, whose adolescent dementia influences this record's tropicalia songs ("The Boy from Ipanema", "Sissexa"), and Shuggie Otis, whose piquantly primitive drum machines propel each track. So much hidden influence lies in these songs. The wonderful opening punch of "To Climb the Cliff" and the title track predate Stereolab's Gainsbourg-gone-Kraftwerk by over a decade, and Air's cool, Parisian sex by nearly two. Tortoise directly lifted the syncopated synthetic funk of "To Climb the Cliff" on their equally rare seven-inch, "Madison Ave/Madison Area".
Stuttering kick drums, icicle synths, and robotic bass jerks the listener through "Spiral Staircase" with better effect than a handful of contemporary NY revivalists. Limited to the use of the above ingredients and the occasional dry electric guitar, Antena relied on vast amounts of space for haunting texture. Each member sounds isolated in far corners of an airport hangar, allowing coke-bottle percussion, sound effects, and Isabelle Antena's detached, seductive voice to float. The more propulsive tracks are offset by opiated cocktail numbers like "Silly Things", "Bye Bye Papaye", and "Noelle A Hawaii". Yet, the faint echo of Antena's label cousins Joy Division keeps things perversely intoxicating. Only on "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort", a cover of Michel Legrand's theme to the Catherine Deneuve film, do Antena sound positively retro-minded. Even then, the strings and horns seemingly waft from a wormhole.
The band fell apart soon after this release, and carried on into goofy plastic jazz before Isabella turned it all into a solo vehicle. These days, Isabelle Antena still rides the stereotypical "Big in Japan" wave, touring the country and releasing smooth adult albums in some cruel approximation of Lost in Translation's Sausalito. Yet she'll always have this document of inspired originality in her past, which, with this reissue, could very well make her a rediscovered figure. As this album proves, she was much more akin to Beck and Björk than her dour trend-following contemporaries. So unique perhaps only Jacques Brel found the verb for it.
Brent DiCrescenzo March 12th, 2004