There are many good reasons to love the Portland band Eux Autres. Their name, and many of their lyrics, are in French (and in the case of the name, colloquial Quebecois French, at that)—certain to annoy rightwingers, Francophobia bandwagonistes, Marco Materazzi and other odious elements. Last Yuletide, they released one of the best Christmas anthems ever, “Another Christmas at Home,” which captures the punch- (and otherwise-) drunken atmosphere of whirlwind holiday visit to the Old Hometown, and features a tavern that sells champagne on draught. Guitarist Nick “Nicolhino” Larimer is both a Liverpool fan and a member of the Albina Going FC Unicorns—does football street cred get any more street, or any more credible?
But for fans of this game we call Beautiful, perhaps the best reason to bandy about Eux Autres’ difficult-to-pronounce name is that the duo almost certainly enjoys the distinction of being America’s smartest soccer band. (The fact that the competition in this category is arguably limited—given that oy-lite ska-pop nerds the Bouncing Souls constitute the rest of the field—should not be held against them.) Football contributes a rich and earthy hue to Eux Autres’ lyrical palette, a source for melancholic allusion and emotional allegory born of the game’s split personality—for fans, both a medium for fantasy and a cause of crushing heartbreak; for players, a means to fabulous wealth and a soul-draining job. (Suffice it to say that the vision of football propounded in Eux Autres songs is more Britannic than Brazilian; their first album included a song called “Partick Nil”. Yes, that’s a reference to Glasgow’s mighty Partick Thistle Football Club, currently doing business in the Scottish First Division…though they have the odd moment of glory to reflect upon.)
Their new album, Cold City, opens with a song called “The Deadball Era”: a weird Surrealist collage of 1970s English football hard yakka and spikes-up 1920s baseball. In its punchy lilt, the song turns phrases like “transfer market,” “cup ties,” and “no domestic fixtures and a doping scandal” into unlikely but catchy pop filigree. The subject seems to be a team (of some sort) drifting from early promise into seasonal disaster. (To the point where, perhaps inspired by Liverpool, Europe is all they’ve got.) The gaffer orders a winter break in Rio to clear the boys’ heads, to no avail—the Spaniards have their number, and the non-stop grind of life at the top reduces them to desperation. (“I’m always coming home, unless I’m leaving home.”) In the end, they must fall back on cold-blooded cynicism—the ultimate fate of every team as it faces the question of survival. “Mercy is for the unfit.” You can almost hear Roy Keane bellow it in the Sunderland dressing room.
In “Collision Theory,” pyramid football provides a handy metaphor for life’s calamities: “We’re never surviving this fall / It’s lower division for all.” Pop music’s job is to articulate and dramatize the most commonplace (e.g., basically mundane) emotions and experiences. In this case, Eux Autres say that we’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again—even the lordly among us:
What next? A rock opera about the New York Cosmos? A spoken-word interpretation of the Serie A match-fixing scandal? A storming, two-minute-fifty-nine-second rave-up about the White Horse final in the 1923 FA Cup? Perhaps the game’s burgeoning Stateside popularity (and enduring alterna-culture, anti-jock cachet) will put Eux Autres on the leading edge of an indie-calcio subgenre that sweeps Hipster America. Picture the beauty: mustaches grown in irony; Manchester City shirts worn in deadly earnest.