sat 24/02/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: Les Panties | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Les Panties

Reissue CDs Weekly: Les Panties

Retrospective of eccentrically named Belgian cold-wavers reveals them as a significant force

Les Panties: a rock bandXavier Marquis

What should a band called Les Panties sound like? Melodic, Ramones-like pop-punk? Dirty garage rock a la early White Stripes? From the name, either surmise seems reasonable. In the event, what reverberates through this incongruously named Brussels band is a love of cold wave, the Gallic take on post-punk.

In the early Eighties, Les Panties would have been at home on Les Disques du Crépuscule, the Factory Records-related Belgian label which issued records by Antena, Josef K and Section 25. Fittingly, Cold Science is released by the reanimated Crépuscule.

Over 40 minutes, Cold Science collects the complete Les Panties catalogue: 10 tracks drawn from a seven-inch single of which 300 copies were pressed, a 100-edition cassette and 12-inch EP (200 copies came in a case-bound, fold-out package) which were barely released on their own Fantomes Records between 2011 and 2015. Though not a massive musical resume, it’s enough to demonstrate that the still-extant outfit are a significant band, and one with a singular take on their inspirations. Anyone with a yen for Chvrches should immediately head towards Les Panties.

les panties cold scienceLes Panties are not, as they could be, a laptops and singer configuration. A fully functioning band, they sport bass, drums, guitar, keyboards and a vocalist. This gives them an edge, as do razor-sharp production, direct arrangements, memorable melodies and Sophie Frison’s detached yet declamatory voice. In essence, though they have chosen to emphasise atmosphere they are – as the bands of 35 years ago were – a rock band.

“Velvet”, from the 2015 EP, opens Cold Science. With snappy Cocteau Twins/Cure bass, crisp New Order c “Ceremony” drums, a hymnal keyboard refrain and glistening guitar it instantly grabs attention. Her voice is initially a moan and a sigh. Then, Frison ramps up the drama as she injects more and more urgency. Meta-music is usually about passion for its reference points, but Les Panties' take on their sources is about the passion with which it is delivered. “Velvet” builds to the point of triggering a double-check: how can a band this good, this strong, have previously escaped attention? But then, this is what Cold Science is for – to raise awareness of Les Panties.

As the compilation continues, the gems keep coming. “Factory” – presumably referencing the label – is a nimble workout with touches of Gina X and Siouxsie & the Banshees. The watery “Driving” conjures images of an endless 3am drive along an empty motorway as well as fellow Belgians The Names. Cold Science is, though, cunningly sequenced. It is not chronological and the eighth and ninth tracks – both sides of their debut single – are less convincing as they foreground a jagged early Sisters of Mercy-style guitar, lean towards the goth and Frison sounds more mannered than elsewhere, proving that this is a band which has evolved rather than one which is an exercise in off-the-shelf style. Les Panties did not arrive fully formed.

No matter. When it hits home, Cold Science does so with enviable aplomb. Highly recommended.

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