With their ukuleles, accordions, and clarinets, the quirky little instrumental tunes on L'Ensemble Rayé's first disc certainly have a sizable share of lightheartedness and whimsy, but there's also the occasional sense that the proceedings are about to become unhinged. Something is a bit skewed when, for example, Jean-20 Huguenin plucks his folky guitars over the steady pulse but uncertain pitch of something sounding rather like a cross between a fuzz bass and the muffled bark of a metallic dog on "Un Square au Printemps," or when Cedric Vuille's various multi-tracked and questionably tuned instruments (including the ever-popular "lucky ducky") on "Renouveau Horloger" give the impression that New York no waver Rhys Chatham, with his twisted sense of rhythm and harmonics, has taken charge of an Appalachian folk outfit. The weirdness creeping in around the edges is not unanticipated, given Huguenin and Vuille's previous involvement in Debile Menthol, a Swiss band greatly influenced by the avant-prog Rock in Opposition movement, which included such dark-horse rock outcasts as Henry Cow, Univers Zero, and Etron Fou Leloublan. This recording represents the first stage of L'Ensemble Rayé and, although credited to an "ensemble," it's more accurately regarded as a Huguenin and Vuille duo effort -- or perhaps even two solo efforts, since the first ten tracks (combined under the heading "Même en Hiver") were composed and arranged by Vuille, and Huguenin handled the composing and arranging on tracks 11 through 16 ("Comme un Pinson dans l'Eau"). However, they do play on each other's tunes, both seemingly game to try out their skills on practically any musical instrument found within a few kilometers of the Studio des Usines (the two prove particularly adept on guitars and Vuille sounds a lot like Aksak Maboul's Marc Hollander on clarinet). They are also assisted by a wide array of guest musicians, including Momo Rossel, almost a Swiss avant rock superstar, who plays bass, piano, and/or hurdy gurdy on a few tracks and also helped with recording and mixing. At its lightest, as on the sprightly "Même en Hiver," the music here invites comparison to the ukulele-strummed chamber dances of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and there is even a flirtation with Jamaican rhythms on the engaging "Skaggae." Meanwhile, it sounds like Univers Zero has crashed the session on a darker tune like "Un Morceau Pour la Fête," although the generally easygoing pair of Huguenin and Vuille were more or less successful in keeping the evil ones at bay.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch