I was in Montreal last month covering the M for Montreal festival for another site and like a lot of things like this, I was generally glad all the bands were playing short, punchy sets. Ensemble, the musical pseudonym of former Parisian Oliver Alary, was the only performance I actually wanted to be longer. Backed with cello, saxophone and keyboards, and featuring vocalist Darcy Convoy, Alary created lush, slightly glitchy baroque music that had me thinking of early Broadcast.
We only got three songs, one of which was a rather brilliant reworking of UB40's debut single "Food for Thought." I spent a while after their set trying to convince one of my fellow attendees that UB40 were, at one point in the early '80s, actually good and not just perpetrators of bland reggae covers of soul hits. Anyway, Ensemble's version is a stunner, centered around sultry, spooky saxophone that just kind of melts into you. The instrument, which was ruined by too many Sanborn imitators on nearly every '80s pop song, can actually be used to great effect, as it is here.
"Food for Thought" is the b-side to Ensemble's new single "Envies d'Avalanches" which precedes their lovely third album, Excerpts, due out January 25.
You can download the A-side for the price of your email address, and you can pre-order Excerpts here. If you're curious about the UB40 original — a sharp indictment of Thatcher's refusal to aid in African famine relief — it's an extremely promising start to a band who would eventually come to personify "cod reggae." Video: