Tahiti 80 Puzzle

There's no doubt that Air helped open the door for French bands internationally, but this seems to have been somewhat of a mixed blessing for French musicians who actually consider themselves to be in "proper bands," as opposed to a dance duo obsessed with analog synthesisers. Two recent Paris-based exports are attempting to widen the playing field outside of their homeland and are both name dropping the usual suspects, like Serge Gainsbourg, while at the same time claiming influences as broad as American rock, jazz and, yes, dance music. Phoenix has taken a somewhat more kitsch approach, producing an album that sounds exactly like it was released in the early '80s - right down to the cheesy artwork and accompanying video. It works. Tracks like "Party Time" show they are capable of "rocking," but the majority of United takes a more '80s pop approach, with "On Fire" and "Too Young" being downright silly, but in a good way. French connections? United features appearances from members of Daft Punk and Cassius and, surprise, they've played with Air. English is the chosen language for both bands and if you were forced to guess, you would assume England was their home, based on their overall sound. This is especially true for Tahiti 80, who's new album, Puzzle, had me fooled. This pop gem surfaced thanks to Chicago label Minty Fresh. The lyrical content delivered by wispy-piped singer Xavier Boyer may be a bit suspect, but the overall impact of the album isn't compromised. "Hey Joe," "Heartbeat" and the title track are excellent examples of the band's talent and confidence. Their guitar-based sound is wonderfully augmented by brass, piano and even strings, but not to excess. There's a definite '60s influence in Tahiti 80 and "Mr. Davies" makes an obvious nod to the Kinks' singer. Overall, Puzzle is a stronger, more consistently enjoyable album, but if these bands are any indication, France may start to bump England out of their prestigious position as purveyors of dreamy pop (Universal)