Charif Megarbane must write music in his sleep. How else could he be so prolific? Beginning with Heroes & Villains, a collaboration with Dominique Salameh, the label page for Megarbane’s Hisstology scrolls and scrolls and scrolls and scrolls, boasting over 50 albums, most of which—despite names like The Free Association Syndicate, The Submarine Chronicles, and Trans-Mara Express—are written, arranged, and played entirely by the Lebanese composer. For the 30th album as Cosmic Analog Ensemble, Megarbane proves that he can’t turn the songwriting off, despite the fact that album title Les Grandes Vacances is French term for “summer break.” Even a holiday in France seemed to inspire another massive collection of eccentric and cinematic library music.
Inspired by 1970s composers and songwriters like David Axelrod, Ennio Morricone, and even Serge Gainsbourg’s collaborations with Jean-Claude Vannier, Les Grandes Vacances is nestled in the warm, jazzy, sometimes whimsical, marriage of orchestral and funk music. Unlike those touchtones, Megarbane does not have orchestras at his disposal. Everything from the harpsichord, Wurlitzers, Farfisas, and Moogs; vibraphone, flute, guitars, drums, melodica, and even theremin are played by Megarbane. And while the album’s 21 cinematic compositions could be heard as the score for a seasonal respite, Les Grandes Vacances is equally ominous. Even the title of the album opener, “Interruption Introduction,” suggests imminent trouble. Throughout Les Grandes Vacances Megarbane wages a battle of contrasts, blurring the lines between carefree bliss and a dark undercurrent of danger.
Where the last Cosmic Analog Ensemble record, Expo Botanica, relied on the fuzztone guitars of exploitation films to narrate the life of plants, Megarbane here seems more inspired by the emotional lives of humans. “La Ligne Claire” could score a bike riding montage, and “The Coordinates of the Soul” is built for the scene where two lovers arrive at a romantic destination and reveal intimate secrets. Perhaps “Les Murènes” came to him after a day at the aquarium, sitting by the moray eel tank. He balances the music’s observational qualities with field recordings on “Maritime Jazz,” where the creak of a boat in Marseille is woven into the sonic textures. Elsewhere, Megarbane’s breath can be heard blowing through a hollow tube.
To be fair: in French “vacances” means both holiday and vacancy, so Megarbane’s duality is not entirely incidental. If there’s a season of White Lotus set in France, Megarbane would be the perfect person to infuse the local flavors with subtle cues of tension and looming quiet. On the tracks that bookend the record—“Passé Composé” and “Passé Decomposé”—he’s exploring both the simple, quaint past in the corroded, ugly history. There is a sense that the album is not entirely a love letter, making Mergarbane more than just a chameleonic composer with a busy passport. He’s metabolized the sounds with enough comprehension to recalibrate them into cutting analysis.