Happy Families are All Alike

Ilitch are an experimental French rock combo I never heard from until that odd record After The Wave was handed down to us, credited to Laurent Saïet and guests, some of which turned out to be members of said Ilitch. After The Wave was a highly dramatised and apocalyptic take on the pandemic, full of ominous music and also decorated with overpowering collage images supplied by Thierry Müller.

Said Müller has now teamed up with his brother Patrick Müller for PTM Works 2 (TRACE LABEL 057) – and I’m not sure if this constitutes a proper reforming of the original band that made Periodik Mindtrouble in 1978, before going on to create a number of odd records variously described as electronic, New Wave, Industrial and Experimental Rock, depending on which glitchy-proton your web browser sends you. There’s just two of them now and the original line-up also included Fred Nipi, Ruth Ellyeri, and the estimable Franq de Quengo (who happened to run Bimbo Tower, an art/record shop in Paris that in the 2000s sold lotsa good stuff you can’t get anywhere else). In any case, the press notes make more of the fact that the two brothers are locked in the recording studio again after many star-crossed journeys in which they’ve each pursued their own separate musical exploits. I’m not sure if it was an especially happy occasion, either; the press notes hint at “ambivalent memory of an adolescence”, referring to the family photos spread across the six panels of this outsize-card wallet cover, and inviting us to peer, like David Lynch, behind the apparently happy façade of this false-remembered bliss of family life.

Well, it’s true that the music is pretty grim – imagine a more bleak version of such French avant-progsters as Pole, Heldon, Lard Free, or Jean Pierre Alarcen, mixed up with the sickest parts of Krautrock synth music and the lurching spirits of horrifying industrial murk re-animated with rusty cogs. It’s made with synths, guitars, keyboards, electronics, and field recordings, but everything has been treated with some rare disease culture such that every note grows out crooked and covered with the Parisian equivalent of Dutch Elm disease. The duo seem to veer between two main modes – (1) tracks which are underpinned by a dark-wave rhythm (though lacking a drummer, they have to do this with a sequencer or loops, I guess – though a drum machine seems to surface on one track at least) and which chug along down a mineshaft to oblivion; or (2) tracks with no such beat, and which lie there like a soggy carcass or some hapless wretch attempting to drag itself into a plague pit. Not an uplifting listen, for sure; but there’s a lot of twisted ingenuity in the way they manage to stink out the studio with their own brand of depressing grue, somewhat like a less altruistic version of Reto Mäder projects such as Ural Umbo and Sum Of R. They’ve got a similar taste for layering and excess, which is which why I mention Mäder.

For those with a taste for more, you might want to seek out the Fractal Records reissue of their 1980 masterwork 10 Suicides, which includes the complete “Coma Programma” live sessions made from 1976-1978. PTM Works 2 thankfully doesn’t seem to be hard-pedalling the “suicide” line, but its track titles do hint at a certain doomed Surrealist poet’s anguish, unless they just read that way in French…investigate. From 14 April 2022.