Gabin Gabin Hey!

Gabin: “Gabin” (Astralwerks)

Nathan Hall

Italy nowadays is not for the faint of heart. There are only two sections at restaurants: regular smoking and ultra. Meat is consumed like water. Hard-core pornography is shown on prime time. Traffic laws are merely suggestions. That said, it is somewhat surprising that something as tasteful and reserved as Gabin’s debut CD could spring forth just a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Church in Rome.

The pet project of longtime Italian house DJ Filipo Clary and classically trained jazz bassist Max Bottinni, the group’s name refers to pre-WWII French actor Jean Gabin. The tragedian became famous for his world-weary, anti-hero roles, seemingly the exact opposite of the sprightly, happy-go-lucky mood that permeates Gabin’s euro-house sound. The fact that both the album cover and the hit music video for “Doo Uap” feature a Citroën speaks to the underlying French-ness of the record, an aspect in no way lost on the musicians and the marketing department.

Giving a shout-out to the Frenchies has become somewhat mandatory in the world of dance music since 1999, when Daft Punk and their ilk came to rule the dance floor. To be fair, there is good reason groups like Cassius, Motorbass, and Etienne De Crecy sell so well. They are talented mixers who can turn out a party at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless, Les Rhythmes Digitales and other latecomers to the “frog hop” scene are at least open about faking an accent or a passport to get sufficient credentials for a sales boost. It does not exactly help Gabin’s case that their music video looks like a carbon copy of Air’s “Sexy Boy” foray into rotascope. If this is not jumping on a commercial trend bandwagon, I don’t know what is.

Image and style crimes aside, this is body rockin’ retro chic at its finest. With deep underground beats and sexy smooth vocals, it has the power to make you not care that you just paid five times more than you should have for that last drink. There is, as with any dance party record, a slight aftertaste of 1977 disco disposability, but nobody checks the back of the package for protein content when all they really want is a sugar rush.

The standout track here is “Doo Uap, Doo Uap, Doo Uap,” which is Italian for doo-wop, for those not in the know. It mines Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” artfully filtering big band jazz through modern-day gay bar rhythms without devolving into pure plagiarism.

This is sensible, chill-out lounge music that would work well on either a fashion runway or a space-age bachelor pad. The disc’s sole flaw is the horrific misuse of Blue Note alumni saxophones that remind one more of “U.S.A. Up All Night” ambience than velvet-roped club hopping does. Employing the bilingual vocal stylings of world-beat friendly Mano Negra and P18 is a nice touch as well.

Gabin ultimately feels like the long lost soundtrack to that Federico Fellini film you just cannot for the life of you quite put your finger on. Everyone has expensive sunglasses, the turntable is on as loud as it can go, the sky is perfect, and the traffic cop does not even care if you drive on the sidewalk.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]