It is testament to the talents of globetrotting French band Lo’Jo that after three decades together they’re still producing albums as seductive and enigmatic as Cinéma El Mundo. They have built their reputation on exploring music from different parts of the world, from chanson to reggae-infused cha’abi from the Maghreb, to the fiery beats of the Balkans. Their quest for new and different sounds has taken them to far-flung places like Chechnya and deep into the Sahara, where they helped found the Festival in the Desert with Tinariwen in 2001. All these influences have been carefully and lovingly woven together on this, their 13th album, which is global in vision but has a sweetly mournful Gallic heart, and could only be Lo’Jo.
Lo’Jo’s lyrics are full of surreal images, and the man behind them all is bandleader and songwriter Denis Péan. He has a poet’s ear and a voice that is deliciously louche and dissipated, in contrast to the sweet Algerian harmonies of his co-vocalists, the El Nourid sisters. Their partnership finds perfect expression here on “Tout Est Fragile,” a song that is as close to pop as the band has come in years, with infectious layers of voices giving release in a surging chorus. The lush feel of that track is a stark contrast to the sonic travelogue of “African Dub Crossing The FantÃ´ms Of An Opera,” featuring Tinariwen guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib – a fragile soundscape that skitters lightly across continents, conjuring up smoky, shadowy images before moving on.
Cinéma El Mundo is full of beautiful details, like the deep dub echo on the drums of “La Marseillaise En Créole,” and the soft horns that punctuate “Tout Est Fragile.” These little subtleties add highlights, as do guests such as cellist Vincent Segal, whose playing on “Magnétic” is as expressive as any human voice. But it’s the appearance of British cult musician Robert Wyatt that will probably draw most attention. He intones (in French) the poem that acts as an overture to the album, and also contributes a wordless, instantly recognizable vocal to the title cut, scat-singing over a shimmer of strings and liquid percussion – a beautiful, breathless interlude before the circus rhythms of “Zetwal” take the journey in an utterly different direction.
Deep into their long career, Lo’Jo have come up with something that builds on their globetrotting and sounds fresh, vital, and beautiful. It might just be the best thing they’ve ever released.