Of alt. folk émigré Simon Bertrand’s past, very little is known. We know that the thirty-something originally hails from Brittany and moved to London some fifteen years ago before appearing on the third Telescopage compilation and subsequently signing to French label Talitres in 2010, but beyond that the musician known as The Callstore has revealed very little of himself. Perhaps preferring to let his music speak for him, his debut full-length Save No One suggests a wealth of experience and sorrow behind his reserved demeanour.
Having completely self-recorded, self-produced and played all the instruments on the album (even programming drum parts using his Playstation), Bertrand has evidently gone to great lengths in keeping Save No One a deeply personal affair. His efforts have paid off though, as the album possesses a scrappy lo-fi charm and intimate atmosphere, as if you were sat in the same room he wrote it in. Delivering songs of failed romances and personal disaffections in a wine-steeped baritone close to The National’s Matt Berninger, Bertrand displays a sparkling originality and sense of scope that sets him apart from other folk hopefuls.
While his songs are undoubtedly rooted in folk, many songs here have one foot firmly planted in an idiosyncratic rock camp. Dramatic album closer Above and Beneath Your Feet balances raspy electric guitar with featherlight piano, while In Between Tricks The Magician Bows lies somewhere between rock and electro-disco with a catchy sequencer bridge. Bertrand is at his best though when he keeps things simple and allows the natural directness of his songwriting to shine through, as he does on uplifting midpoint Sad Sometimes and haunting highlight The Letting Go. On the latter, Bertrand’s plaintive vocals and acoustic arpeggios are skillfully embellished with swelling strings and eerie backing vocals that convey the pain of accepting a relationship’s end, long after they’ve gone.
However, such eclecticism pays the price of the album as a whole sounding slightly disjointed, as clunky tonal shifts between oddball rockers and quiet contemplations cause them to rub uncomfortably against one another. And while the Playstation beats for the most part fulfil their utilitarian purpose, on angry and twisted rockers like Thou Shall Be Broken they crucially lack the power needed to serve the song, like substituting Big Ben with a cowbell. Similarly, Bertrand’s fathoms-deep vocals at its best imbues his lyrics with a world-weary sageness, but at other times lack emotion and at the worst make him sound frankly bored. There’s a fine line between vocal restraint and lacklustre mumbling, which unfortunately Bertrand crosses on occasion.
These are all minor bugbears and growing pains though, and it’s refreshing for an emerging artist to take so many chances instead of playing it safe. Save No One shows major promise and with a sense of vision and an intelligent ear for arranging, Bertrand could very well be a diamond in the rough.
Review by: James MacKinnon
Out Now via Talitres
Order via Amazon