Drunksouls: Just Before Chaos

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When we Americans think of French music, it’s a good bet most would turn to either bassy house music or an accordion echoing through cobblestone alley ways. That’s what comes to my mind, anyway, but Drunksouls have absolutely nothing to do with either, and while I’m sure some of my musician friends would doubtless devolve into comparisons between guitar and accordion and give me a great history lesson, listening to Just Before Chaos doesn’t conjure any images of wandering French minstrels.

Lead singer DJaM and guitarist Julien Mur. (Photo from band’s web site)
Lead singer DJaM and guitarist Julien Mur.
(Photo from band’s web site)

It did make me wish I was on a Caribbean island drinking a rum runner on the beach, until I started reading the translated lyrics. These guys, like most Reggae music, are pretty serious about the political element of their genre. Some songs, like “J’ai fait un rêve” and “Derniere cigarette,” are quite clearly politically motivated, and even the caged-bird serenade “Dear Lady” is underpinned by suggestions of the cost of the lives of the wealthy borne by the laboring classes. Actually it’s more of an overtone, considering the context; almost every song on the album is a rallying cry for revolution, calling for change in the system and declaring intolerance on behalf of the youth for the corruption and political shortcomings of an older generation.

French Reggae is actually a fairly huge genre and France has what is likely the most active reggae music scene outside of Jamaica. Popular artists like Danakil and Dub Incorporation represent the more traditional variety of reggae and more hip-hop styled artists like I-Octane bolster the genre’s dancehall influence.

None of these, however, deliver quite the same urgency that Drunksouls seems to carry in their call to arms. Just Before Chaos avoids most of the typical Rastafarian meanderings on the pain of the lives of the suppressed, and goes straight for the kill: these guys want people to move to Paris and start rioting!

They also incorporate more rock influence and modern production techniques than the others mentioned, with electric guitar and (sampled?) timpani playing a prominent role in the first track, “Chaos,” and giving “Revolution” an almost punk rock-like band focus. It’s probably the first time I’ve heard rock blended with reggae that doesn’t sound like either ska or jam.

This is really quite an eclectic album for reggae, with “J’ai fait un rêve” sporting a noticeably more traditional island music flair, eschewing the slower, heavier rhythms of reggae for a lighter, more upbeat tempo while still accomplishing the original goal of reggae in delivering a political message in easily palatable fashion.

Photo from band’s web site
Photo from band’s web site

They’re definitely not stuck in the past, either; Drunksouls definitely seem keen on addressing even more current issues in addition to the timeless theme of a spiritual and cultural revolution. “L’Amour diététique” addresses the current global epidemic of genetically modified food, calling for the mowing of all GMO crops and a return to organic production processes.

They don’t stop at addressing their own fans, either. Drunksouls speaks to their friends, their enemies, and everyone in between.  “J’ai fait un rêve” seems to be for just about anyone, especially those caught between a “normal” life and the desire to participate in revolution, playing on both revolutionary sympathies and the banality of the accomplishments of our system. “The End” is particularly striking, as it seems aimed at perhaps the previous generation who have already become too involved with the system to turn back, beckoning them to confess their fears, realize that they’ve simply been caught in the tide of industry, and abandon the futile consumerist quest to rejoin the movement.

This is easily the most powerful track on the album. Let’s be honest: Western civilization and democratic-capitalist governments are too well-armed and rely far too much on rigid power structures for change to come from anywhere but the top. The only powers left to the people short of true revolution are the right to elect representatives in government and the ability to influence the market with how we spend our money. Everyone has the first right, but very few make a real difference with the second, and those with the most power to do so are already “lost” to the eyes of reggae music and its following.

So what more powerful a message could there be than a combined heartfelt plea and warning to those who have already fallen so far, reminding them of the consequences of their actions and demonstrating the futility of their hopes for what money and investment in the system might bring to them? After all, what has it brought? A big house and fancy car? Big TV with a booming sound system? All admirable in their own right, but do they fill the void created by our detached, unnatural modern lifestyles? Drunksouls dare you to ask yourself, and if you ask me, they’re asking the right questions to the right people.

Photo from band’s web site
Photo from band’s web site

These guys are on the right track. They know how to incorporate an appropriately diverse array of influences into reggae and they do it without spoiling a good formula; reggae music is, and always has been, a fairly well-defined genre, and it does what it means to do very well.

Drunksouls capitalize on the well-established sound, and they reproduce it well without sounding like stale Bob Marley clones, like most in the genre. They retain classic reggae influence throughout the album, and aren’t trying to bend the genre, but they aren’t afraid to mix it up, either. Combine this tasteful approach to reggae with their powerful message, strong lyrics, and solid musicianship and timing, and you have an appropriately progressive voice in a progressive genre; a combination that should never be underestimated.