The phrase “year-list material” tends to get bandied around a bit (guilty as charged – here’s Exhibit A and Exhibit B), but I make no apologies for suggesting that Montréal-based Hôtel Morphée’s sophomore album “Rêve américain” is a more than worthy addition to the fold.
Whereas the band’s 2013 debut “Des Histoires des Fantômes” was all dark, brooding and Gothic tinged, “Reve américain” has a more pronounce alt-rock edge. Although the menacing undercurrent isn’t far from the surface and there’s the trademark liberal application of orchestral strings, the sound is altogether a more urgent, distorted, guitar-fuelled affair.
The direction the album takes was apparent from the thumping up-tempo “Dernier jour” – the more pronounced rock sound overlaid with violins and Laurence Newbornne’s rasping vocals (which appear to have far more range and expression than on “Des Histoires des Fantômes”) This is further confirmed by the album’s opening track, “Reve américain” – sombre keyboards buried beneath distorted, pounding bass – and some cleverly effects with Auto-Tune on Laurence’s voice as she ever so matter-of-factly addresses dreaming “…that one was killed and that one was missing…”
While the musical direction of the album is a new departure, the band maintain the illusion of expertly wrapping disconcerting lyrics with punchy rhythms – “Psycholove” – a love song for psychopaths, being a case in-point. Indeed the album explores the realities and myths of the American dream, walking as it does the tightrope between reverie and nightmares, exploring themes of love (“Soigne-moi”), sex (“Petite mort”) and violence (“Des milliers de gens”).
All eleven songs here are frighteningly consistent in quality; the reflective “Je reviendrai” is totally structured around Laurence’s auto-tuned and reverbed – almost tremolo vocals; “Tucson” paints a picture as bleak as the city under a burning Arizona sun…
I’ve previously commented that for all the great pop, country and folk albums that the French-Canadian Provinces have produced, the French music scene on this side of the pond desperately needs bands capable of delivering albums that generates the “frisson” that alternative and indie-rock provides.
With “Reve américain”, Hôtel Morphée have delivered this album…