The Cinematic Orchestra

Ma Fleur

By Michael BarclayThough still true to their evocative moniker, Ma Fleur doesn’t sound anything like the Cinematic Orchestra you remember. Gone are the jazz leanings, the samples and the beats. Instead, bandleader Jason Swinscoe has been immersing himself in the possibilities of folk music. It’s jarringly naked and because it’s Swinscoe’s first time writing an album without samples, it’s also a tad slight. His repetitious approach plods when stripped of all percussion — a point proven by the entrancing instrumental highlight "As the Stars Fall,” which brings the beat back. Montreal’s Patrick Watson, one of the main collaborators here, does his best to make an emotional connection. But as on the last proper full-length, 2002’s Every Day, it’s the powerful voice of soul singer Fontella Bass that rings truest, when the 62-year-old delivers a heart wrenching performance on "Breathe.” That one track — with its sparse verses, lingering electronics, acoustic guitars, and a swelling chorus with jazzy drums — encapsulates everything Swinscoe does best, which only casts the rest of Ma Fleur in a dimmer light.

Is there anything particularly electronic about this record?
Jason Swinscoe: It’s probably the most amount of electronics ever, compared to our previous records. It’s all very subtle, which is the point. Rather than sampling old records, it’s about sampling the band. Instead of going into the studio with old records, I’m going in with my own ideas and writing from scratch. It’s an interesting learning curve to sit in front of a piano and write. It’s quite a hard thing.

How did you find Patrick Watson?
He’s the goalkeeper for the Ninja Tune hockey team in Montreal. I had been looking a long time for a vocalist to sing all the tunes on the record. Jeff from Ninja mentioned Patrick and sent me a MP3. There was something in his voice and the way he used it that I found intriguing. From listening to that one track, I wasn’t quite sure whether it would work as a collaboration, but I had to take a chance because I was running out of ideas.

He also co-writes one of the songs that Fontella Bass sings, doesn’t he?
He co-wrote the words to "Breathe.” I asked Patrick to try and sing it but it needed that age-old authoritative figure. It didn’t have that weight. It’s a piece of music about mortality. Fontella is in frail health and recovering from a severe stroke, and not really able to get around easily. But once we got her into the studio and seated, she was loving it. She was able to shine again.
(Domino)
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