SET FEUX – Set Feux

Set Feux features the talents of vocalist/keyboardist Diana Planche – a musician who first broke through as a member of Canadian indie pop band The Paint Movement – along with her husband Barzin, and wearenotwhoweare man Kevin Kralik. On this debut album, it often feels as if it’s Planche who’s in the driving seat, even if she doesn’t have complete artistic control. The material isn’t ever busy, but the very relaxed world that Set Feux creates, seemingly effortlessly, allows the album to be filled with all manner of fine music. In just nine songs, this self titled release takes in elements of light dream pop, mellow and almost soulful tunes, downtempo vibes that occasionally hint at the warm trip hop of Morcheeba, a pinch of light country and more besides. You might read the usual lazy claims that Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac have been pivotal influences within the Set Feux sound, but if that’s the case, those never dominate the end result. The tunes here are far more lax, and even more distinctive in their own way.

Beginning very gently, ‘Young and Lovely’ centres around piano and voice at first, allowing listeners to be enveloped in Planche’s light, airy tones. There’s immediately a small nod to Paul Buchanan’s ‘Mid Air’ within the melody’s fragility, but as the arrangement grows, it blooms into something more of its own. The slow rhythms, warm basslines and floating keys evoke elements of sophisticated adult pop, and the way the slightly filtered vocal weaves in and out of the melody in hand, this draws the listener into a world that occasionally feels like a homage to the 90s, but with a more modern twist. It’s often the voice that catches the ear, but exploring the music a little more closely, there’s a lot of depth here for something that, at first, sounds quite unfussy. The tinkling keys that appear beneath the slow bass grooves are superb, and the way the instrumental breaks introduce a jazz toned guitar that sounds like it’s been influenced by Steve Howe’s work at the end of the Yes number ‘To Be Over’ comes as a massive surprise. With the melody building and the slow beats increasing a little during the second half of the number, this gives a really full sound for something so slight, creating the perfect opener.

A little busier, ‘Let Them Stare’ applies light keys to a groove laden bassline, under which, a very busy programmed rhythm applies a light dance-oriented beat. Not that you could ever dance to the result. The pulsing electro pop jostles around without a really obvious central groove; it’s like a piece of Ibiza chill out that’s been super-kitsched by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley. For those able to find an easy way into this mix of 90s electronica and strange 70s pop, it’ll be an album highlight. For those who are less enamoured by such knowingly retro sounds, it’ll just sound like a strange throwback. Nevertheless, the hazy vocal hooks are applied in such a manner that it stands half a chance of being memorable to anyone willing to make the effort, and the same can be said for ‘Jumbotron’ which shares more light harmonies above a pulsing synthetic bass, peppered with the kind of floaty qualities that occasionally feel like an unexpected throwback to kitschy fare like The RAH Band’s ‘Clouds Above The Moon’, albeit with a more modern production sound.

At the album’s most accessible, ‘Gloria’s Holiday’ isn’t shy in dropping into an arrangement that fuses the usual light synthy pop with more of an 80s feel. This allows for a post-disco influenced bassline which manages to be really uplifting from the get go, whilst a bright piano and a world of woo-woo inflected vocals appear celebratory in a way that’s positively cheesy…but ultimately loveable. This is the kind of thing that Smoke Season might have given the world, if only they’d not taken a premature hiatus, or maybe even the future sound of Rilo Kiley, if Jenny had gone deeper into some of the pop that was starting to emerge on the brilliant ‘Under The Blacklight’. With ‘Jealous Heart’ taking the dream pop core and applying that to a rather lax pop sound, the listener is dropped into a world where the sounds never seem in any real hurry, and yet are perfectly formed in terms of semi-hooky alt-pop. Here, Set Feux are armed with a melody that’s closer to 80s soul-pop than the indie fare usually associated with anything this hazy, and the most memorable moments are shared between the layered vocal harmonies and the brief appearance of a jazzy sax, which although underused, really gives this number a different feel.

With its use of steady rhythm and soft piano lines, the intro to ‘Say It Again’ has hints of both trip hop and dream pop, but – much like the best bits of this album – it isn’t by any means an easy homage to either genre. Its combination of mid tempo chords and ethereal vocals quickly shows off a more mellow vibe, which should be enough to pull in many fans of alt-pop, but with a chord progression that sounds like a vague homage to Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’ to boost the chorus, it also comes with a surprisingly old soul. It’s one of those tracks that, ultimately, doesn’t fit easily into any musical space – and is all the better for it. Between an alluring, slightly fey vocal and an unhurried approach to sharing great melodies, this number allows the listener time to reflect, and as such, is something that sounds better with each successive play.

In closing, there’s another change of mood on ‘The Way You Look At Me’ when Set Feux explore an arrangement that fuses adult pop with the rhythm of an old country waltz. With its use of layered harmony vocals and wavering melodies, there’s almost immediately a vibe of Feist’s more sedate work and even the quieter moments of Broken Social scene, but the warm Americana also takes in a sound that isn’t a million miles away from The Delines. With its marriage of strong vocal presence, and clean guitar twang – never overplayed, but always there giving the slow groove an important lift – it’s easy to imagine this appealing to a wide audience since it doesn’t really challenge. However, in creating a mellow mood somewhere between the disparate fields of pop, Americana and very light indie, it has a very natural confidence, and Set Feux’s insistence on not being constricted by genre really pays off here.

Since this album was recorded over a period of five years, Set Feux were seemingly in no hurry to create new music, and that relaxed approach has very much carried over into the songs themselves. This record’s best tunes unwind and unravel in such a way they feel very natural; their easy, almost languid style plays helps to create a feeling of pure escapism. On that score, ‘Set Feux’ works brilliantly. It’s both a hazy soundtrack for summer days and a dream fuelled backdrop to transport your ears away from the humdrum of everyday life. Overall, its nine songs make up a hugely unexpected treat.

March 2024