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Recently I’ve been getting into foreign music and not just because I think it’s sexier, or more indie. And obviously it isn’t about the street cred I’ll get from reciting facts about European singers. I have always felt there’s something wholly cathartic and unhinging about listening to a song you don’t at all understand but still manages to move you. I should probably go to an Opera.

This infatuation began recently when I saw Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd), the British comedic sensation, in his directing element. As any fan would, when the trailer for his new movie, Submarine debuted online, I thanked the internet for being so instantly gratifying and began to watch.

Naturally, the trailer was beautiful. But what seemed to crawl past my eardrums, brain and head straight for my heart, was the music that pushed me into the front car of an emotional roller coaster.

The bed of the 2-minute trailer is a love song performed by Jacques Brel, the Belgian Frank Sinatra of the 50’s and 60’s. Ray Charles, David Bowie and even Nirvana have covered his French ballads. So after some googling on my part, I listened to Beirut’s cover of Brel’s Le Moribond performed in a crowded pub in Paris. Sweat stained and a little drunk, they owned Brel’s music and managed to give moving performance, further affirming my love. His music swells into waves, and hits you with unexpected goosebumps no matter when or how you’re listening to it. Jens Lekman is the closest, modern voice I can compare to Brel’s. I am caving into this new addiction of discovering music out of my English-speaking comfort bubble.

So far, I’ve found 2 new favorites. Karkwa and Natalia LaFourcade. The former, an indie rock group from Quebec, they sing in french and they seem to have a thing for playing with emotions. They’re similar to Grizzly Bear in their musical arrangements, although the vocals are softer and could easily be compared to a French Jeff Tweedy. I highly recommend their most recent album, Les Chemins de verre, which dropped last year.

The latter, Natalia LaFourcade, stole my heart when I saw her LaBlogotheque Take Away Show. LaFouracade’s voice and presence exuded sweetness as she giggled and frolicked around Mexico City only armed with her guitar. A Mexican Annie Clark, if you will. I urge you to listen to Natalia, even if you can’t speak Spanish.


  1. David says:

    I think you’d like Jovanotti (Italian). His music is pretty similar.

  2. sussudiokim says:

    Wonderful post. I agree with the above commenter about La Blogotheque, a simply wonderful time sink best spent with a huge stupid grin plastered on your face.

    I agree with your stance on songs that are effective without using understandable lyrics. Hell I love Thom York for that very reason. My all time favorite foreign band is Louis Attaque, a must listen for anyone interested.

    check it Lea

  3. Jackfan12 says:

    Thanks Becca for this post, I have recently gotten into french pop so thanks for introducing me to these new names.

  4. Juan Felipe says:

    I was going to write early on during the trailer that I didn’t think it was Jacques Brel singing, but towards the end at the climax of the clip that unmistakeable, raspy voice jumped in. I hadn’t heard that version before.

    If you liked Karkwa, you might enjoy Manu Chao.
    And thanks for introducing me to LaFourcade — she reminds me of Julieta Venegas but clearly has a much more viscerally real vibe.

  5. MAXimiliano says:

    An artist I really like whose lyrics I don’t understand, at all, is Selda Bagcan. A Turkish folk singer whose self titles album has some of the best produced tracks I’ve ever heard. Especially her song “Ince Ince”.

  6. Fro says:

    I <3 Natalia. This is good stuff

  7. Chris Hardwick says:

    Great stuff Becca! Karkwa sounds like Bon Iver served on a baguette to me, which I quite enjoy.

  8. Lee says:

    Isn’t La Blogotheque and their Take Away Shows brilliant?

    To those reading who’ve never heard of it, check it out. One of my all time favorites is and forever will be the video of Menomena playing Wet and Rusting to a pair of dancing French children.

    This is how music should be. On the streets – amongst the people – and un-self-conscious.

    Wonderful post, Becca.