Collected from recordings culled from over three years, from 1996 to 1998, Once Upon a Time features River (aka Fabrice Herve) working on her own in creating an at-once dreamy yet at-points-visceral take on synth and guitar pop cascades and strolls. The obvious comparison points would be acts like the Magnetic Fields and Orange Cake Mix (songs like "Stories of Love" could easily fit on their albums without a worry, while the splashy "Tu es Beau" is the Eurovision song hit of Stephin Merritt's dreams). Certainly there's a similar emphasis (some would say flaw) in the thick, gauzy recording levels that are a product of home-recording understatement as much as anything else. But Herve's percussion programming is often much more immediate and full than might be expected, and the rush of songs like "Beach Song" and "Waiting" call to mind prime New Order more than once. That "Family (Techno Mix)" could indeed have a brisk techno punch to it and yet still clearly be a home-taping effort and not a white vinyl release for an actual club gives a sense of how Herve finds the right balance at her best. Other striking efforts include the chiming guitar and heavy echo of "Inside Your Name," which has a lovely Cocteau Twins-style air to it, the sudden laser-sound stabs cutting across the float of "Mary's Street," and the blissed-out beautiful drone and wash of "Family (Noisy Mix)." Herve's singing isn't perfectly controlled and cool all the time like that of so many Françoise Hardy- or Sarah Cracknell-worshipping singers, instead sounding sometimes nasally childlike and at other points nervously aggressive, almost fighting the songs in a subtle way. It's a nice twist against the expectations of French female pop singing as seen by a non-French audience.
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