It is safe to say that 2014 has produced a bumper crop of Francophone albums. Many of these have appeared in this very blog and some have even been reviewed by yours truly. Mentally I’m whittling a year’s worth of albums to a top 10… And then Guuz announces that this year we’re going to only nominate one album… just one… our choice for the album of 2014…
So… I’ve thought long and hard about my choice and so with apologies to Hôtel Morphée, Chloé Lacasse, Catherine Leduc and Salomé Leclerc, to name but a few of my top 10 – all of whom are arguably responsible for some of the great albums of this (or any) year. Somehow though I already knew the other nine albums on my list were going to be (very, very) good and I was already anticipating their release. Hopefully someone will nominate them (if not you’ll be able to read about them again elsewhere), but my album of the year has to be the one that not only was I totally unprepared for, but also – and to quote Guuz himself – left me more than a little bit shaken in the process…
Montréalaise singer-actress-author and Unicef ambassador Stéphanie Lapointe released her last album back in 2009. This year she released “Les amours parallèles”, an album that manages to both immediately transport the listener back to les années soixante while at the same time brimming with such timeless quality that the songs here could have been written anytime over the past fifty years. Over ten intimate portraits that describe the many facets of love; good and bad, escape, forgiveness, loss, grief and desire, a brief moment in time has been captured and frozen for all eternity.
Actually if there is an award for team album of the year, then “Les amours parallèles” is the undisputed winner. Already armed with a honey-dripped and mesmerising voice that would be described as nailed-on Fille Fragile, Stéphanie surrounded herself amongst the crème of Québec’s song-writing and composing talent; Philippe B – winner of two Félix at this year’s ADISQ Gala; Jimmy Hunt – GAMIQ award winner and Polaris nominee; award winning poet Kim Doré alongside Émilie Laforest and Joseph Marchand of blog favourites, Forêt, who were also responsible for the album’s production.
From the opening number, the Philippe B composition, “L’oiseau mécanique”, with it’s poignant piano melody and Stéphanie’s voice softly floating above the clouds to the haunting resonance of the English horn on the closing “Nous revenons de loin”, this is an album of terrifying consistency.
The album feels very French – and while it’s not impossible to imagine this album being written and performed in (say) English – it resonates with “Frenchiness” and the echoes of Françoise Hardy, France Gall and Jane Birkin (whose “Pourquoi” has been lovingly reinterpreted here); yet for an album that has a distinctly retro-sixties feel (indeed, even the album artwork harks back to the period), there’s only one song here, “Un jour comme un autre”, that is actually from that era. Originally performed by Brigitte Bardot on her 1964 album “BB”, here the nuances of Stéphanie’s voice perfectly captures the feeling of resignation and despair.
Mention has to be made of the two stunning duets on the album – both written and composed by their respective co-vocalists. The haunting “De mon enfance” is graced by the angelic harmonies of Stéphanie and Philémon Cimon and the only English-language offering, Leif Vollebekk’s “Not a moment too soon”, an incredibly haunting song of sombre and imposing orchestral strings, gentle soothing piano and arresting vocals.
There are also some incredibly thoughtful touches that help bind the songs on this album – heavenly choirs flit in and out of the spotlight, the arrangements – be it strings, piano or acoustic guitar – all perfectly capture the particular mood of a song.
“Les amours parallèles” is a gorgeous concept album that revolves around the theme of love in all of its many guises. It is also nothing short of a masterpiece and deserved of consideration as album of the year 2014.