Belle Epoque - A la Dérive
Rock and roll was initially a deviation from blues, which intensified it. There was a lot of rebellion involved in its creation, however even rock became stale and ordinary enough to produce the offshoot of punk, which was more rebellious and sloppier. And then hardcore was a further derivation of punk, making everything more aggressive and harsh. And still yet, emo made hardcore more personal and poignant, thus furthering intensifying the one-dimensional aggression of typical hardcore. The icing on the cake which, is screamo, which just ensures that emo has more screaming and more grind elements. You'd think we'd be at the point where the music was so intense that it's unlistenable, but still, as the times change, standards are reamed to further extremes, and new, more intense genres are created to satisfy the continuous snowballing of the intensity paradigm. Somewhere along this downhill plunge lies the band Belle Epoque, whose decidedly less intense brand of emo marks a reversal of intensity, but all within the actual genre of emo. There's screamed vocals, aggressively played clean tone guitar, fast and skiddish drumming, with lots of highs and lows, and songs in 6/8, but still, Belle Epoque and their main LP A la Dérive
(whose 25 minute length makes it feel like a Trophy Scars' EP), have a reserved and calm sound compared to other emo bands.
One reasoning for this difference is their geography and influences. Belle Epoque are French and are undoubtedly influenced by the popular Amanda Woodward who sounded more like post-hardcore moonlighting as emo. In addition, other European bands like La Quiete are definitely a little less chaotic than their kindred spirit bands like Australia's Love Like...Electrocution and Massachusetts' Ampere. Overall the whole European scene feels a little more melodic and a little more clean than the American emo/screamo scene. Even beyond that, Belle Epoque shows a higher level of chill than any other European band. Firstly, they rarely have distortion on any instrument. There is some clipping when the bass reaches large volumes and the guitar at the big moment of "Le mal a Penser" grinds in pretty well with the crashes of the symbals, but other than that, everything here is crisp and clear. Secondly, what they do with those clean tones is less chaotic. There are lots of cool suspended dissonances in their style, but in general these come from chords that are played pretty simply or from arpeggios, which both aren't the most brutal way of getting a harmony across. Thirdly, the drumming, which fills a lot of space on the album and is pretty engaging, is usually pretty midtempo. Even if there's lots of hits, being in 6/8 or a half time 4/4 feel will bring down the chaos to a more palatable pace. Fourthly, a lot of the songs are written in minor keys but spend a lot of time on major harmonies, adding a lighter sound to the typical dramatic, dark dirges of the emo we're used to hearing. Lastly, the mixing is also very clean. All of the tones work together well and excepting the clipping in the bass, none of the sounds really clash. Overall this album is really clean, and from my description it'd seem almost too clean...
Don't lean on your suspicions though, because they'll definitely collapse. Even though Belle Epoque plays their instruments in a calmer way than most emo bands, that doesn't mean they don't emote, which is the key to writing successful emo songs. Belle Epoque's songs are definitely dramatic because they alternate their arpeggios and block chords well to provide contrasting flavors, and the chord progressions themselves suggest a constant building of tension, only to be released in the beautiful suspended dissonances that I mentioned earlier. There's a "rolling" sensation to every song on this album, because Belle Epoque really successfully propels their music by mixing consistent bass, arpeggiated guitar, and fast, upbeat cymbal rolls to push the song towards their inevitable climaxes, which within themselves are dramatic yet not overbearing. It's tough to grasp this odd parardox of A la Dérive
, without hearing it though. This album doesn't reinvent the genre, or push any extremes of intensity, but it does provide a unique opportunity to hear a different pacing to a genre that has a more clear cut and well-defined method for pacing songs. It's solid, poignant album that is unexpectedly soothing. Unfortunately this band has broken up after very few releases, like most cool emo bands do.
Recommended Tracks: Le Mal a Penser, Une Simple Etoile
Original, Rough Track Title Translation:
1. The Dance Ends, The Masks Come Off
2. To Think Ill
3. The Voluntary ______(something like a solider but many an astronaut)
4. He Is too Late
5. Let's Go the Distance
6. A Simple Star