It seems I’m running out of summer, and in this case Isabelles, but before I do, I have to share one of those perfect albums that just scream: Can you hold on, just for a bit more? Isabelle Antena’s En Cavale released on uber-stylish indie Belgian record label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, and graced by a gorgeous watercolor album cover painted by their genius chief art designer Benoît Hennebert, captured a special moment in time. Three years after fronting pioneering electro-samba group Antena, Isabelle Pogawa, had done just about everything to encapsulate the label sound. En Cavale was something even more special.
Imagine combining minimalist electro, ambient, samba, Gallic pop, and experimental electro-acoustic music into something resembling accessible music? Those were the foreign waters her previous group, the southern French trio of Antena, had deftly navigated. Given the freedom by her label to do so, she offered a different kind of experimentalism that other label mates like industrial punks Cabaret Voltaire, experimental composer Gavin Bryars, and jangle rockers The Pale Fountains might not be able to offer. It was a joyful repartee to the increasingly dour post-punk scene they wanted little of.
After establishing a sound and identity in Camino del Sol others like Air, Tortoise, or Stereolab, would unconsciously tap into much, much later (check out their genius take on Tom Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema” for proof) creative paths let them on their separate ways. What happened? Well, Isabelle developed a love for funk and disco music the others, Sylvain Fasy who’d go into photography and Pascale Moiroud into fashion, weren’t quite keen on exploring anymore. No matter, she’d continue on.
What happened next is the Japanese showing us how backwards European audiences can sometimes be (American audiences are forgiven, we never even received any pressings of their/her albums on this side of the pond). Isabelle teased two singles in 1985. First came an original, the sublime tropical electro-ballad “Seaside Weekend” released under the Antena name. Out it went, and down it went, to cricket, in the music sales charts. Then came the other, under her stage name Isabelle Antena, a brilliant cover of Sister Sledge’s “Easy Street“; poof, again, something that went nowhere.
Undeterred, Isabelle followed her muse, and for En Cavale enlisted the help of Orange Juice producer Martin Hayle, to helm her vision: a beguiling, unique blend of cosmopolitan progressive pop. It was a new meeting for both the mind and the booty. On En Cavale, as jaw-dropping as her newly reworked cover of “Easy Street” became, her own reimagining of “Seaside Weekend” with the aid of actual Chic masterminds Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, easily projected a feeling felt in that album cover and one you can’t help but share when the record starts playing.
Unabashedly glowing, the rest of the album presents a masterpiece for those times you secretly wished lasted longer. It’s this sound that would make her a hit in Japan and plant the seedlings, in style, and in influence that would allow her to beat out noted singers like Whitney Houston, Sade, Tracey Thorn, and others, at 1987’s Tokyo Music Festival. However, the question is: Are you ready to fall for the charms of one Isabelle Pogawa? Another is: Can you tell I’ve written far longer than I should? Stalling for time, so you can enjoy the performance of “Seaside Week End” on Japanese TV for much longer than you thought you would? Oh well, the grass ain’t getting any greener…