Though they’re long-term conspirators, the last time Tim Gane (Stereolab) and Sean O’Hagan (The High Llamas) collaborated on a project outside their primary outfits was 1997’s Turn On, a short, good-natured odyssey into a world where analogue electronics ruled the tape machines, and play was the order of the day. It’s taken a full decade and a soundtrack commission from French director Marc Fitoussi to follow up on Turn On’s promise, though the nature of La Vie d’Artiste demands something significantly different.
If anything, La Vie d’Artiste displays both how O’Hagan’s arrangement skills have blossomed in the intervening decade, and how much he bases the cyclical nature of his High Llamas songs on soundtracks. The strong scent of light-hearted tribute to La Vie d’Artiste attests to Gane and O’Hagan’s studiousness. Their stylistic borrowing from French and Italian soundtrack composers, however, never devolves to outright theft.
Here, the two are particularly keen on gamely scything strings, parping, slippery brass figures, and arpeggios that bounce like cartoon crotchets and semi-quavers hopping between staves. There are enough detours to keep you guessing, too. “Alice sur scène,” for example, burbles like incidental music for a Tomorrow People tribute hour; 1970s crime drama beat music spins through “Cora prend la fuite,” and “Neutral TV Music” is as tiny and toy-like as Young Marble Giants.
Like many good soundtracks, La Vie d’Artiste breathes easily when heard away from its film counterpart, and it was easily one of the most enduring, inviting records from 2007. Yet the cellular structures, slight returns and repeated phrases ask the listener to fill in the gaps, thus piecing together the record’s overall melodic logic while moving through the many string and brass variations and alternate takes.