hile searching for information regarding Camille's Le Fil, the most frequent description you’ll run into is that the album is "the French pop equivalent to Björk's Medúlla." A bit troubling, considering that the Matthew Barney stroke-a-thon is one of the most pretentious, unlistenable albums of the last five years.
Just like Björk, though, Camille is not so easily typecast. Her work with Nouvelle Vague proves that much. But where the bossa nova covers group uses style to disguise substance, Le Fil works the other way around. On it, the architecture of every song is built around the human voice, á la Medúlla, with some using it as the sole instrument. However, many of the songs are characterized by one spotlighted non-vocal instrument. Consequently, the single instrument amplifies the vocals, and they create catchy and direct pop songs, the intention being that none of the experimental nature shows.
But this is no singles collection: Le Fil is linked by a vocal drone that runs through the course of the entire album, never ceasing from beginning to end, so that every song uses it as a base. It’s an interesting device, giving the album a cohesiveness that her different melodies and songwriting styles wouldn’t have been able to provide otherwise. This way, it sounds natural when an operatic, carnivalesque song like "Vertige," sidles up next to the pop beatboxing and musical riffing of "Senza."
Le Fil's specialty is its melodies, which Camille has quite a knack for. One need look no further than "Ta Douleur" in which she throws out one of the most insistent and fetching vocal melodies of the year. Over some scat vocals and sinking horns, she burns the track by matching the vocal to the background so well that the two complement each other perfectly. On "Assise," Camille uses African percussion arrangements and chanting to give the song its own character. Each song on Le Fil devotes itself to a genre or style, and in so doing Camille shows how the vocal element of a song reflects its distinction, not just merely the instrumentation.
The thing is, after all of this, I'm still not sure what I think of Le Fil. When Björk sacrificed quality for audacity, it became a total disaster. Le Fil has the same terrific concept, genre exploration, and (crucially) the good songwriting that Medúlla lacked. So what’s the problem?
Le Fil is caught in a perpetual limbo of great ideas and catchy songs, but little that adds up to much outside of itself. I've listened to it many times over, and every time I find something else that I like, but nothing that sticks. Is it that Camille, for all of her exploration into other styles and plunging head first into this heady exposition, never escapes her role as a hotel lounge vocalist? Even though she is doing something different, she always sounds like a girl on a Thievery Corporation album or a chill-out compilation, thereupon never elevating it into something truly memorable. Le Fil is an altogether interesting and elegant pop album, but I find myself wishing that it was something more.