Laetitia Sadier

Sept. 27 • Contemporary Arts Center

Sep 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Laetitia Sadier can at first seem an imposing pop figure.

She’s a French intellectual with strong leftist opinions about how greedy, selfish capitalism and the excessive power of the financial sector are thwarting true democracy. And her new album — Silencio — has songs with political subject matter and challenging titles like “The Rules of the Game,” “Auscultation to the Nation,” “There Is a Price to Pay for Freedom (And It Isn’t Security),” and “Fragment Pour Le Future De L’Homme.” (The album has both French- and English-language songs.)

But that first impression would be wrong. It doesn’t take into account the alluring charm and effervescence of her pleasantly nuanced, reassuring voice. Nor does it allow for the attraction of her songs’ melodies and varied, inventive arrangements. They can be bubbly and airy like Bossa Nova or Lounge; rocking with elements of Garage; Electronica with sweeps of majestic grandeur, or ballads with smoky clouds of mysterious romanticism.

For MidPoint, she will appear with two others who contributed to Silencio — James Elkington and Julien Gasc — in a guitar-bass-drums trio that also includes sound treatments courtesy of Elkington’s iPad.

Those aware of her past work with Stereolab may understand Sadier’s musical approach as part of her idealistic vision of a free world where everything exists in democratic and musical harmony. Founded in Britain in 1990, Stereolab was one of the most musically adventurous bands and a pioneer of “Post Rock” alternative music. Others may wonder why she’s not a screaming punk railing against injustice to the din of loud, one-chord guitar noise, as many before her have done.
Sadier, 44, explained her approach during a telephone interview from London.

“I’ve listened to quite a few Punk bands that were quite political and found them very exciting,” she said. “At the same time, you do what you feel you’re capable of doing and I don’t think I could punk it out for an hour every night. I don’t feel it’s me. I love melodies and love rhythms.

“I don’t think you have to be Punk to make political music,” she continued. “I have an example — What’s Going On, the album by Marvin Gaye. It’s a super, super political album and the music is ultra-sophisticated, sensual and absolutely beautiful. So there you go.”

And some of her new album’s songs (it’s her second solo record since Stereolab suspended activity in 2009) are very political. “Auscultation to the Nation,” one of the Silencio’s most appealing Rock tunes with its early-REM-style guitar strumming and the way Sadier’s voice hits haunting high notes, is truly a screed. The English lyrics come from a direct transcription of a caller to a French radio show who was upset by the G-20’s global influence. (The G-20, which includes political figures from the world’s major economies, discusses and plans global economic policies and is a subject of great concern to the left.)

“Enough already with the dictatorship, tyranny of money/we want a real democracy,” Sadier sings, very sprightly.
“I heard this and it was so raw and direct,” Sadier said of the song’s phone-call source material. “I thought I should be hearing this 10 times a day.”

“The Rules of the Game” is a more gentle, artful dissection of the “ruling class,” melodically slower with a dark, spellbinding drifting-blues quality that envelops her voice in sadness. It’s inspired by the classic French movie of the same name that Jean Renoir made in 1939, just before World War II, about the out-of-touch bourgeoisie as the world was turning dangerously violent.

“They’re so careless about what’s going on in the state of world,” she explained of the film’s subjects. “Hitler is about to take over, build an empire, and they’re going, ‘Ha, ha, ha.’

“I feel there’s a parallel to this day and the state of democracy and our carelessness and indifference to what is going on. That was what I wanted to describe in this album. Be human, do not be aggressive — but also talk about what’s going on.”

The well-traveled, well-read Sadier has strong opinions about the rise of the right-wing Tea Party in the U.S. and its opposition to government-guaranteed health care for all. It is not a humane democratic people’s movement to her, and she expresses why with eloquent clarity.

“To me that’s using certain ideas against the people rather than for the people,” she said. “It’s based on total individualism and selfish behavior, and they (confuse) this with freedom: ‘I am free to do whatever I want.’ Well, yes, if you were alone maybe you could do whatever the hell you wanted. But we work as a complex and multiple organism — as a society. Not as a solo individual who can do whatever they bloody well like. It’s insane to think like that.

“Of course, we’re all individuals and we have to blossom as such, but in respect to others,” she continued. “That’s absolutely fundamental. I think the Tea Party generally are completely deluding themselves in thinking they’ll never need a hospital or anything. It’s animalistic. It’s the law of the jungle.”

But she has a suggestion for the Tea Party. Make art … and music. “The beauty of art is that you can do what you like,” she said. “That’s what we should say to the Tea Party. Get into art and be creative. Because there is a real space that’s open and totally free and you’re not going to harm anyone.”

LAETITIA SADIER performs MPMF.12 at 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Contemporary Arts Center.