Fly Pan Am

C'est ça

(LP - Constellation #CST 147LP)

Review by Paul Simpson

During their initial run, Fly Pan Am were arguably the most avant-garde group signed to Montreal's Constellation label. Their releases consisted of lengthy compositions featuring long stretches of skeletal, Krautrock-influenced rhythms that didn't build up into the type of sweeping crescendos some of their better-known labelmates were known for, and their usage of noise and musique concrète elements felt much more jarring and challenging. The group dissolved following the release of 2004's N'Écoutez Pas, their most accomplished work to that point, and its members concentrated on other projects, including Pas Chic Chic and Feu Thérèse. In 2018, Fly Pan Am unexpectedly reconvened and played their first concert in 14 years, and fourth full-length C'est ça arrived a year later. The album builds on the more accessible elements of N'Écoutez Pas, while also pushing the sonic experimentation over the edge, resulting in a jaw-dropping suite of avant-pop that constantly takes exciting hairpin turns. "Distance Dealer" is a My Bloody Valentine-style song spiked with a few doses of stimulants, with searing electro-shock noise buzzing on top of the gliding guitars and buried vocals. The album's noise elements are a cross between the type of voltage you'd expect from a shoegaze band and the more intense, cut-up creations of harsh noise masters like John Wiese. Fans of laid-back, Beach House-style dream pop will cower in fear; this is more on the advanced level of Sweet Trip, Lovesliescrushing, or Ifwhen (the successor to All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors). And it only gets more twisted and disorienting. "Bleeding Decay" and "One Hit Wonder" feature the type of quasi-danceable rhythms of older Fly Pan Am, but beefed up with countless layers of keyboards and electronic effects, and somehow topped with black metal-style shrieking and vocoders, suggesting an uneven mixture of Stereolab and Fuck Buttons. To make things even more outlandish, the final two songs drop bubbly psychedelia and baroque pop into the mix. "Discreet Channeling" layers demonic hissing under a fluttering wash of tones, and "Interface Your Shattered Dreams" segues from Scott Walker-style crooning to caustic screaming, with frenetic drumming underpinning the strangely comforting guitar textures. On paper, there's no way all these combinations should gel, but C'est ça is so dense, hyper-focused, and determined that it forces itself to make sense, altering the listener's perception of how music works. What a bizarre, absurd, wonderful album. Easily Fly Pan Am's best.