In Jean Renoir’s film, La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), there’s a scene where the character Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest (played by an amazing Marcel Dalio) presents a crowd with one of his “acquisitions:” a mechanized toy playing a sort of march or music associated with child-themed amusement parks. In this scene, the bourgeois character is portrayed in arrested development, utilizing his wealth and privilege to dedicate himself as a collector of automated toys. The crowd of like-minded peers before him cheers exuberantly. His wealth and recognition fuel his desire, underneath the crumbling personal relations of his own and the others around him.
Laetitia Sadier’s opening track on Silencio, “The Rule of the Game,” takes this same view of the ruling class: “Overindulged children/ Drawn to cruel games.” The former Stereolab vocalist reduces the view inside of a fictionalized bourgeois dream/reality to a point of criticism from an outside, contemporary view, suggesting that this type of ignorance and lifestyle leads to fascism. To those familiar with Stereolab’s occasionally sociopolitical tendencies, the overt political messaging on “The Rule of the Game” won’t be too surprising. However, “The Rule of the Game” sets the tone for what is much of Silencio, an album of heavily political overtones within soundscapes that have come to define the Sadier/Monade/Stereolab sound. Compared to The Trip, Sadier’s previous and much more personal album, Silencio’s politics become the driving force of the songs. Take for example the urgency of both sound and lyrical content of “Auscultation to the Nation,” followed by “There is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and it isn’t Security),” a juxtaposing dream state of a song. It doesn’t matter if the track is either uptempo/noise-driven or downtempo/dreamscape; Sadier’s driving motivation seems to be communicatively direct, or to find that direct link.
The “us vs. them” line is very thick on Silencio, and Sadier seems to break the “us” into “us/me” (“Moi Sans Zach,” “Invitation au silence”). There are places it works well, and places it doesn’t. For one, it’s nice to hear such overtly political takes on the post-rock/indie rock/shoegaze genre, at a time when vocality in these genres exists almost purely for sound or, more scathingly, for the niceness of sound. One does not need to be a group like Propaghandi to present political themes, and in the case of songs like “The Rule of the Game” or “There Is a Price,” the use is quite effective. What seems problematic on Silencio is the theme of auscultation (a medical term for “listening to the internal sounds of the body;” don’t worry, I had to look it up too). For example, “Find Me the Pulse of the Universe” is disastrously anthropocentric, a theme that fits too well with the sort of floating, bossanova beat-driven post-rock. Not to say that “fitting” is necessarily criminal, but Sadier’s best songs come out with juxtapositions and contrasts.
Silencio’s themes of “silence” both hit and miss. The best example is on “Silent Spot,” a deeply personal song of Sadier understanding her sister’s death, an extension of the understanding undertaken on The Trip (for whom The Trip was dedicated to). Here, the notion of silence is much more abstract, either referring to the silence of death or a personal search for the “silent spot,” a spot of peace among grievance. The more direct, or more correctly, the more intentionally direct notions of “silence” are harder to grasp. Closing track “Invitation au silence” acts as a thesis for this notion. Composed of one spoken track in French followed by one whispered track in English, “Invitation” was recorded in a south France church, the room of which supplies the (hopefully unedited) reverb of the French-spoken tones. Not to say that the track is void of metaphorical notions, but most present is Sadier’s notion of silence, as she is able to feel “instantly connected to my deeper self,” carrying a notion of “absolute silence.” Personally, I don’t agree with any notion of silence being “absolute;” I tend to agree with John Cage’s notion of the impossibility of silence, who says in Silence: Lectures and Writings, “There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.” The last two minutes of “Invitation” act as Sadier’s own 4’33”, an invitation to hear the recorded silence of the church, a sound full of audible hiss mixed with the listener’s environment (which for me was the sound of cars and ambulances; I live next to a busy street). Point being that both her search and notions of silence seem so personal that their specifically ascribed characteristics don’t translate to the “other.”
Creating political space comes with difficulty. The “other” loses its dimensionality, and the expression becomes somewhat incapable of escaping the “self” or the “us/we/me.” While I personally prefer the undefinable over the ascribed, there’s a way in which Sadier uses this didacticism to great effect. I may have glanced over the musicality of the album while covering some of these subjects, but it’s the music of Silencio that carries these notions to their greater effects. As much as I disagree with the vocal notions of “silence,” the musical moments are outstanding. From the simplicity in songs like “Lightning Thunderbolt” to the momentary pause before the tempo jump of “The Rule of the Game,” the lyrical content of the album depends on the musicality, which itself attests for the album’s strongest moments.