Every once in a while I miss something really good, and it drives me crazy because I like to be on top of these things for the people who read my reviews. Lou Doillon put out Places back in June, so many of you may have already heard it and put it in your “Album of the Year contenders” pile. Better late than never, though, and if you haven’t heard it yet you are in for a real treat.
The french actress/model/singer has the pedigree to be a star-her father and mother are both in the pictures. She’s also Charlotte Gainsbourg’s half-sister, and they share a lot of ability both in front of the camera and musically. Lou isn’t one to let her family’s background propel her career, though. She’s crafted a truly fine record with Places, her first full-length and the beginning of what is sure to be a long career.
On first listen, I found a lot of similarities to Eleanor Friedberger’s first solo album, Last Summer. They sing with similar voices and follow a kind of slow burning music that constantly draws you in, waiting for the smolder to become an explosion. Places does a great job of keeping you interested, without providing any real release until late in the album on the single “Questions & Answers.”
The opening lyrics from “ICU” are a great representation of what the album is going to be. Starting with just a piano and vocals, Doillon sings: “I wake up some mornings, thank God not as often as I used to, slow and heavy with dreams of you. This is a really great song about being haunted by a failed relationship. Later in the song Doillon gives this confession: “It takes a glass or two for it to settle down, for your shadows to stop following me along.” The song is lifted at the end with some nice horn work and string arrangement.
I love the simplicity of “Same Old Game.” For most of the song it’s just a guitar, a voice, and a haunting humming in the background. I can’t quite tell if it’s an organ or a violin, but the depth it adds is crazy. Doillon is quite comfortable inviting us into her head and allowing us to hear her most intimate fears and feelings. Even when the music is a bit more robust, like on the surrounding tracks “Defiant” and “Jealousy,” there’s always a sense that it’s just you and Doillon in a room together.
My favorite song doesn’t come until the very end of the album. “Real Smart” is the longest and most brutally honest track on Places. Musically it’s almost a mirror of “ICU,” with the same instruments and tempo through the first half. In the second half we get a choir of Doillon’s singing like a gospel song, some nice violin string plucking, and the breathiest saxophone I’ve ever heard. Lyrically it’s a well-executed song about the ability humans have to throw away happiness because they don’t think they deserve it. Or that as soon as something good happens everything will turn bad so we sabotage ourselves.
I didn’t find any tour dates listed as of now, so your only chance to hear Lou Doillon is on this record. You can stream it on Spotify if you don’t mind that they only have a Commentary version that features a little conversation between each song. You can buy it on iTunes or any other online/brick & mortar place that you do your usual music shopping. I highly recommend checking this out if you dig anything from Elton John, Chrissy Hynde, Tracy Chapman, or Fiona Apple.