Sharps & Flats

Fronted by a husband-and-wife team of French psychiatrists, Rinocerose introduce house music to post-rock. Yikes!

By Joey Sweeney
Published April 5, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Only in the banal and strangely restricted world of house music could the idea of having guitars in your group actually be considered a "concept." It's a form that squeezes as many variations as possible out of the standard four-on-the-floor disco beat, traditionally relies on divas to repeat a single phrase over and again (although lately, it's more in vogue to merely sample the diva), and usually rests the weight of its melodic content on ham-fisted synth lines.

Still, go to any nightclub in any city in the world, and house is the dance music of choice. It holds a tyrannical grip over any other forms you'd care to mention: breakbeat, drum 'n' bass, big beat, trance, hip-hop, you name it. And rock 'n' roll? This is the year 2000, fool! Nobody's danced to rock 'n' roll since Anthony Michael Hall made an ass out of himself skanking to the English Beat in "Sixteen Candles."

But in the past few years, the French have been slowly re-creating house music to include elements of string-laden disco, samba, soul, rock and dance floor jazz, otherwise known by most people as -- ick! -- fusion. In any case, it has worked out well, with artists like Alex Gopher and Cassius appearing stateside to reinvigorate a format that was created in American clubs in the first place.

And all along, there's been a subtle (but emphatic) rockist connection to the new wave of French house; for every Motorbass or Daft Punk, there's been an Air or Isolie -- rock kids playing in the house of electronica. Rinocerose, a duo headed up by a husband-and-wife team of French psychiatrists (!), come on the heels of this subtle revolution with their American debut, "Installation Sonore."

Citing guitar-heavy influences like Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine, the band -- and unlike most producer-led house acts, Rinocerose are in fact a band, with real-life drums and everything! -- gleefully eschews, for the most part, the traditional rock-band-plays-electronica formula for songs that actually invite physical movement. In fact, if there's one reason to appreciate "Installation Sonore" it's that there isn't a single track on the record that sounds like goddamned Portishead.

Instead, Rinocerose sound like Blue Oyster Cult remixed by club-hit producer Armand Van Helden or Basement Jaxx, although they have a lot more in common with dance music infidels like Arling & Cameron or Fantastic Plastic Machine. Another saving grace of "Installation Sonore" is an utter absence of that kind of Austin Powers-y, '60s-flavored pop kitsch. Instead, the record is more apt to invoke the jazzy organs and hand claps of the late '70s. In the house world, music like this is usually referred to as "down-tempo" or "late-night," but really, that's bosh: If any of the burners (and they're not all burners, mind you) here feel slow to you, you're probably on drugs. Oh, wait ... I get it.

Without a doubt, the hit on "Installation Sonore" is "Le Mobilier," a voguing little juice box of a track that juxtaposes some weird, filtered Peter Frampton guitar line with a supercheesy late-period Herbie Mann-style flute part. It's the one time that Rinocerose land on the right kind of cheese -- the kind of filtered disco that their fellow countrymen Cassius channeled into one of the standout dance records of last year. If you haven't heard "Le Mobilier" yet, say, at your gym or while shopping with your teenage son at Oak Tree, don't worry: Like any good house record, it'll be used as a sound bed on the Style Channel for years to come.

Joey Sweeney

Joey Sweeney is a contributing editor at Philadelphia Weekly.

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