When I first heard that Red Scare– perhaps the best and brightest in the world of melodic punk labelship– was signing French political punks Guerilla Poubelle, I couldn’t help but think: perfect. I was taken back to my high school days, when I, a teenaged francophile, used to listen to “Mon Rat S’appelle Judas” constantly in an attempt to immerse myself in the French language while nurturing my love of gritty, catchy punk rock. A decade later and I still don’t speak French, but I do still love punk. Seeing the name Guerilla Poubelle brings me back to the good ol’ days, and the fact that it’s attached to my favorite punk label is just icing on the cake. La Nausée is as good a reintroduction as any, and along the way manages to be, uh, very bon.
If you haven’t heard Guerilla Poubelle before, you might be surprised at how familiar the keywords happen to be. Raw, aggressive, throaty, melodic, catchy, pop punk, political. Think of all the stuff that grew out of Gainesville, the gravel inflected punk with the big choruses. Chunkier and less spritely than Against Me!, harder and less emo than Radon. As political as Propagandhi but nowhere near as musically ambitious. They sound like Dead Bars, if Dead Bars sang about existentialism and laid off the pure rock ‘n roll worship. Guerilla Poubelle is loud, fast, and philosophical.
It goes to say, this is a tough album to review. Despite my lifelong interest in the language and culture, I do not speak French in any actual productive way, so the lyrics are mostly lost on me. The bits and pieces I can understand (or glean from the titles/google translate) point to a rabble-rousing politi-punk album steeped heavily in Sartre’s existentialism. A short trek to their bandcamp page shows the band explaining (in English) the inspirations for their songs. Opening track, “Je ne possède que mon corps,” which translates to “I have only my body,” was inspired directly by a passage from Sartre’s La Nausée. Others were created in response to speeches by French president Emmanuel Macron, and others, like “Identité rigide” are more personal– but still very political– exploring the crushing weight of gender expectations. Reading through what the band has to say about their own music points to a group very aware and adept at finding their muses through current events. As a literature nerd, I find La Nausée especially interesting– to see a group name their album after a book by Sartre is weird, cool, and maybe even a little pretentious, but I can’t help but be charmed by it. Guerilla Poubelle are the bohemian artist-types that have been sadly missing from the shout-along punk world. The heady subject matter and lit pedigree make the songs feel like heavier, more intensely intimate creations.
But make no mistake, La Nausée has bangers. Yeah, it’s a smart punk album about how the world is going to shit, but it’s doing it through some straight up punk anthems. First track “Je ne possède que mon corps,” starts with nothing but some guttural vocals and a persistently strummed chord. Soon, the drum and bass come in, and then the backing vocals, and when it all comes together, it’s easy to imagine the kind of singalongs that happen on Guerilla Poubelle’s home turf. “Ceux Qui Ne Sont Rien” maintains the momentum with a big gang vocaled chorus, and “Identité rigide” brings the mosh. My favorite song on La Nausée comes late in the album, titled “Les fils et les filles des sorcières que vous n’avez pas brûlées.” An incredibly badass title, translated to: “The Sons and Daughters of the Witches You Didn’t Burn.” In the band’s own words, the song “…is a tribute to the feminists who fought for women’s rights. There is a reference to the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts”, a statement signed in 1971 by 343 notable women admitting publicly that they had an abortion when it was still illegal in France, exposing themselves to criminal penalty of course. It was followed by a manifesto signed by doctors claiming “We want freedom of abortion. It is entirely the woman’s decision. We reject any entity that forces her to defend herself, perpetuates an atmosphere of guilt, and allows underground abortions to persist” This led to the abolition of criminal prosecution for voluntarily terminating a pregnancy.” It’s a great idea for a song, but before even knowing it’s context, I was taken away by the strength of its gang vocaled melody. Even without the translation, it sounds like a rallying cry in a world that could take a little more rallying.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s punk albums that feel conceived. There’s a lot of rock ‘n roll out there that comes together as a collection of individual songs, written to be written and nothing more. With La Nausée, there is purpose. It feeds on ideas, as well as personal experience, to create art that has been forged in the fires of political strife. When we talk about art imitating life, or life imitating art, we talk about them like they are simply mirrors of each other. As if they are two distinct elements of existence that can’t aspire to anything more than reflection. With La Nausée, I feel those mirrors melting, intertwining. It’s a punk album as concerned with ideas as Sartre or Camus– the writers who fit their philosophies onto the bones of novels, now being referenced by a punk band who fit their ideas onto the bones of an album. It’s the marriage of art and life, as well as a celebration of intertextuality. In the end, whichever La Nausée you prefer, I think we can all agree there’s only one with which we could singalong.