Picture this: You’re dressed head to toe in a, slinky night-time outfit, Möet in one hand and a cigarette dangling in the other, seated at a small, round table in a crowded 50s club in central Paris. The chime of piano chords matches your heartbeat, silky vocals carry you away to another place and the drumbeat makes your foot tap. The soundtrack to your night of sophisticated debauchery is Papooz’s Night Sketches.
A pair of your typical Parisians – far too cool to ever approach but enjoy admiring from afar – Armand Penicaut and Ulysse Cottin have struck a beautiful balance between big band, cabaret club music, 70s love ballads and contemporary French electrofunk. I didn’t know there was a sweet spot there, but apparently, there is. Their 2016 debut featured a listener favourite ‘Ann Wants To Dance’; an upbeat, bouncy funk-infused track with a video that racked up over 12 million streams. You’ve probably never read about it though and there’s a reason for that. Papooz is the band you stumble across at the old timer’s club in a hidden alley at 2am, and half-drunkenly remember the next day.
Their new record Night Sketches scribbles together Penicaut and Cottin’s past experiences; they were your typical literary types, hopping from bar to house party across Paris, and later founded a political fanzine together. Naturally. Inspiring bossa nova-style pop plucked straight from those French dive bars melts together with contemporary European electronica in ‘Theatrical State of Mind’. Although, as I listen a third, fourth, fifth time, I hear vocals inspired by the Beach Boys and Zombies‘ ‘Time Of The Season’. It’s absorbing and totally bemusing.
Dragging us, dishevelled and still with the taste of booze on our breath, into the bright sunshine is ‘Pacific Telephone’ which feels more at home on the set of a Wes Anderson film than hidden in the damp Parisian streets. Woozy, hazed female vocals ride a body-rolling beat and tropical guitars, conjuring images of mustard furniture, wide-legged trousers and the days when smoking in the cinema was considered perfectly normal.
Papooz are in good company in the French alternative scene, stood side-by-side with the likes of La Femme, Polo & Pan and L’Impératrice. However, the distinguishing feature of this duo is how they bring to life vintage sound. On ‘Danger To Myself’ the layered vocals give the sense of live, unscripted melodies on stage, the keys have a jauntiness to them that only comes from a loss of self in the moment, and the guitar solos beg to be seen, rather than just heard through headphones.
Penicault and Cottin have a shared affinity for the unpredictable, for a time when you could throw all caution to the wind and dance the entire night away. So please, join me in falling into deep irresponsibility with Night Sketches tinkering in the background.
Night Sketches is released on 8th March through Half Awake Records.