It would be hard to imagine any “pop/rock” musician being further outside the predominant currents of the genre than Cédric Vuille over the past 30 years. Forget inchoate aggression, murky sonics, over the top emotionalism, melismatic overkill, wanky showboating, arena-sized faux grandeur, pounding four-on-the-floor dance beats, “garagey” amateurism, or any element of expression driven by the emergence of hormonal changes in young listeners. For one thing, consider one of the main instruments in the multi-instrumental Swiss musician’s arsenal (and the inappropriateness of the word “arsenal” helps to illustrate the point): a ukulele. It’s safe to say, then, that the closest Vuille gets to “sludge” in musical terms would be the puddle that the rotund kid in the cover artwork of Faire is wallowing in. No, as anyone acquainted with Vuille and his main gig over the years, L’Ensemble Rayé, is aware, his music is characterized by crispness, clarity, and brevity -- not to mention a charm and amiability wholly at odds with rebel wannabes and explorers of the dark side. And so it goes with Faire, a set of 15 instrumental miniatures featuring Vuille multi-tracked on guitar, clarinet, cuatro, banjolele, bass, ocarina, bantar, sitar, kalimba, keyboards, percussion, and of course, ukulele. Here and there he is joined by guest musicians -- including some L’Ensemble Rayé members and Hamster Theatre accordionist Dave Willey -- but otherwise Faire is pretty much Vuille’s show.
On the strummed and plucked instruments, he sets up little vamps and chord progressions and layers in arpeggios, with rhythms favoring the world’s sunny climes, then tends to favor his clarinet, guitar, or strange voicings of indeterminate origin for the melodies as a final touch. And then he throws in the curve balls that complicate efforts at pigeonholing, here including spoken word (in French) passages mixed into “Nos Futurs” and “Les Lendemains Qui Déchantent,” Johanne Vuille’s multi-tracked vocal chant in the title track, and a sitar emerging in the rollicking country twang of “La Jupe Rouge.” As for that twang, Faire doesn’t explicitly pay homage to American West Coast country- or blues-rock, a theme that ran through Vuille’s preceding solo effort, #804 Center Street, although “Faire” itself rings with a sound not unlike Byrds-ian Rickenbackers. “Pour Justine” has a lovely melody and arrangement, light and innocent enough -- without irony -- to soundtrack a video of baby animals frolicking (it’s safe to assume that a Cédric Vuille-Ted Nugent collabo is not in the cards anytime soon). While nearly everything on Faire is crystal-clear, Vuille is capable of dirtying up the sound with his electric guitar, throwing gritty power chord accents into the sparkle of “On Verra Lilia?” and “De Coin,” the latter of which is one of the CD’s more abrasive tracks in the first place. That touch of guitar distortion is a bit like the pudgy prankster in the cover art tracking his mud across a newly mopped floor -- maybe something for the young rebels after all.