Louis Philippe

Rainfall/Jean Renoir

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Following the demise of él Records in 1989, Louis Philippe found his career unexpectedly blighted by the widespread belief that the whole él roster consisted entirely of fictional characters dreamed up by the label's Svengali figure, Mike Alway. Yet when he did get back to work, rather than present the mainstream recording industry with a calling card in the form of a commercially viable album, Philippe -- and his collaborator Dean Brodrick -- came up with two of his most experimental collections to date. The first, Rainfall, was driven by a self-imposed (and conveniently low-budget) manifesto which dictated that every sound on the album should be the product of either voice or piano, both of which are heavily multi-tracked. Though they bent the rules by using a sampler too, Philippe and Brodrick also used considerable ingenuity in obtaining a range of sounds from the piano by, in that dread term employed by avant-garde jazz musicians, going "under the lid." Although the instrument was variously plucked, beaten, and ravished, the results were far from cacophonous. In fact much of the album's experimentalism stems more from song selection and structure than a desire to push the envelope sonically. An unusually large number of cover versions included Britten's "The Sally Gardens," the traditional English folk song "The Captain's Apprentice," a vocal interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Chelsea Bridge" (in French), and Brian Wilson's "I Guess I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." As for the original material here, Philippe's range of models and influences is more far-flung than ever. "The Dark" seems to originate from a musical co-written by Leonard Bernstein and Brian Eno, while songs like "The Metempsychosis Song" and "The Corncircle Dance" reach a degree of knotty intricacy that veers between thrilling and daunting. There are admittedly moments when Rainfall's deliberately restricted palette seems perverse in the face of so much harmonic and rhythmic adventure, yet it's hard to imagine how the version of the album's strongest track, "Still Life" could have been bettered at any cost. Just 5,000 copies of Rainfall were pressed and sold in Japan, where Philippe had found a new audience as one of the progenitors of the Shibuya-kei sound. It was only finally released in Europe as part of a two-CD set with its successor, Jean Renoir, in the late '90s.

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