Laurence Nerbonne

20150614 Laurence Nerbonne ArtworkThe face and voice should be familiar. Laurence Nerbonne – violinist and vocalist with Montréal’s much-missed alt-rockers Hôtel Morphée – is back, this time flying solo artist and with a sound that is not only totally uncompromising cent pour cent up-tempo electro-pop, but is arguably this summer’s pop anthem.

“Rêves d’été”, with its layered synths and beats combine with Laurence’s rasping and disarmingly seductive vocals to create a ridiculous addictive sound that – trust me – burrows deep into your consciousness and which you’ll find yourself humming along to at every opportunity.

With long-time Hôtel Morphée collaborator Philippe Brault at the controls, Laurence has written composed the most joyous celebration to the healing powers of long summer days and hot summer nights…

Mélanie Brulée

Melanie Brulee1Mélanie Brulée hails from a Francophone family from Cornwall, Ontario. Her debut album “Débridée” is a little bit-retro yet most decidedly fresh in outlook, very definitely fun and also features a stunning version of a song from one of this blog’s favourite chanteuse.

What makes this album really standout though is the way in which Mélanie – who describes her musical style as ‘indie-spaghetti-western-surf-folk-cabaret’ – has taken typically English musical genres – rock and the roots of ‘Americana’, added copious lashings of guitar – mélangé to create something that sounds both incredibly contemporary and most assuredly French…

There’s rock and roll à la française in Astéroïde”, with it’s metronomic beat and tumultuous tumbling coda of guitars, alongside “Obtus” which is as good a song to launch an album as any I’ve heard this year. A quirky love song it’s incredibly retro – full of 60’s surf and tremeloed guitars – insanely cheerful and features a hook so ridiculously catchy that it should be quarantined in an isolation ward.

There’s also weeping steel guitars a plenty as Mélanie borrows from the rich folklore of Americana; the atmospheric “Peur de moi”, contemporary Alt-Country numbers such as “Coeur sauvage” and “Naked” with the latter featuring some very downbeat, trip-hop rhythms (Mélanie is an admirer of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons). And then there are songs where the guitars just take second billing behind the disarming nasal twang and vocal inflections, such as on “Antidote du doute” – which is just such a great pop-song that it leaves you wondering why all pop-songs can’t be as good as this – the imploring and questioning “Qui suis-je” and the distinctive “Merci”.

But finally there is Mélanie’s version of Vanessa Paradis’ “Marilyn et John”. While it is remarkably faithful to the original, the fragility conveyed by her voice so matches the song’s mood – I’ve always liked the song, but I love this version….

“Débridée” is an exceptional album that’s a little bit different and a little bit unexpected, but one that leaves you wanting to hear a whole lot more of Mélanie Brulée…

Chic Suite Trio

20150530 Chic Street Trio Artwork2It is probably safe to suggest that Gainsbourg’s timeless classic, “La Javanaise” has been featured once or twice before (for example here, here, here and, er, here – not forgetting though the original – and arguably the best).

And now New York Trio Chic Suite Trio have added their own sympathetic, acoustic and jazz-infused twist that will transport you to an intimate Rive Gauche café, where – with the air thick with the waft of Disque Bleu smoke – Gainsbourg’s immortal song permeates every nook and cranny..

The Trio have also covered Zazie’s “Chanson d’ami” – originally recorded for her 1998 album “Made in Love” and while vocalist Caitlin Seager’s vocals may not quite convey Zazie’s range of emotion, clever use of the guitar by Brent Vaartstra and especially the sombre double-bass playing of Wallace Stelzer provide for the air of melancholy and despair.

Tina-Ève

20150528 Tina-Ève Artwork3And from the conveyor belt of talent that is Québec’s l’École Nationale de la Chanson de Granby comes singer-songwriter Tina-Ève Provost, who has just released her debut album “Dompter la Bête”. Evoking memories of lazy summers of days long-past that were idly spent listening to 80s and 90s French radio, the album offers enough of a modern twist – not to mention a rather compelling voice – to keep everything resolutely fresh.

Exploring themes of inner turmoil – the ‘beast’ of the album’s title – and while on a first listen some of the songs do appear to sail dangerously close to Celine Dion territory (there’s a thick coating of ‘melodrama’ applied to a few of the tracks) – the album is definitely a grower. Dig a little deeper and you realise that you’re actually listening to a stunning example of La Chanson Moderne. It also becomes obvious that there’s a passion and a frightening intensity here. I’m drawn to a comparison at times with a young Chimène Badi (think 2004’s “Dis-moi que tu m’aimes” – an album worth the admission price alone for the stunning cover of Michel Sardou’s “Je viens du sud”)

And while the opening track,”Conne comme une princesse” is indeed slightly melodramatic – the song, a powerful tale of deception and hurt, and which employs sex as a weapon to both subjugate and deceive – receives from Tina-Ève the strong vocal performance it deserves. Indeed from the opening bars it is obvious that she can sing (the phrase ‘Quelle voix’ springs to mind), possessing a voice that holds you mesmerised throughout the ten tracks on this album.

The overwhelming theme is one of melancholy. “San Francisco” and “Meeting” are in many respects both about breaking-up, the former from the perspective of having finally been worn-down; the later from the point of view of exclusion and ultimately emptiness as she sings; “…But you’re right, Everything is perfect, Everything is perfect… For you…” La vie est peut-être belle, but not for Tina-Ève… In fact breaking-up is quite a common occurrence; “Pitou piteux” portrays an air of resignation, but also fortitude. Meanwhile “Il pleut” – for all it’s radio-friendliness – belies the song’s tristesse.

Thankfully and to lighten the mood, love – in several guises – does rear its head. On “Fais moi croire” it is the fear of (falling in) love. This is a slow-burner, you can almost sense the sickening feeling as she ties her stomach in knots. There’s an uplifting refrain, before the doubts return. Meanwhile “Comment gros tu m’aimes?” appears to be asking as to how much is love worth; “…How much do you love me, A five star hotel or motel… a 2 CV or BMW…”, but as the song progresses so pangs of self-doubt and a need for reassurance emerge – yes it’s a song about worth, but it’s that undefinable worth of self-esteem as opposed to any monetary value. Ultimately though, “Dans l’St-Laurent de tes faiblesses” is the album’s love song. All about ‘being there’, the lyrics are reassuring, there’s a softness yet assuredness in the voice, the tempo is up-beat – arguably prime for radio airtime.

Ultimately “Dompter la Bête” is a success because Tina-Ève’s vocals are always centre-stage – at times fragile, angelic, crystalline, fierce, deeply resonant – and because the album’s powerful lyrics demand a voice to match. On that Tina-Ève delivers with some aplomb, none more so than on the disarmingly melancholic “Le vent mauvais.”

Keren Ann Live in Los Angeles

20150503 Keren Ann Artwork1A balmy April evening in LA seemed a million miles away from that cold winter’s evening in Switzerland where I had my first introduction to the delightful Keren Ann Zeidel, but as her appearances here are as about as frequent as ground-frosts (this being only the third time to my knowledge since I moved to La-La-Land that she has played here) – in a venue holding only a couple of hundred like-minded souls – I was rewarded with the most intimate of shows from arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of her generation. Backed only by Thomas Bartlett on the keyboard, she regaled us – not as a paying audience, but more as old friends – over the course of the best part of a couple of hours with somethings old, something new (a track from her latest, as yet unreleased, album) and even a chanson ‘en français’.

The set – opening with “End of May” – actually drew heavily from 2007’s eponymous album and 2011’s “101”. There were only a couple of tracks from “Not Going Anywhere” and “Nolita”, including the evening only French language offering, “Que n’ai-je” – it’s my one small (indeed not sure why I’m even mentioning it) criticism in that her first two albums (“La Biographie de Luka Philipsen” and “La Disparition” tend to be criminally under-represented. That being said, Los Angeles isn’t – despite fact-fans hosting the second largest French Expat community in the US – noted for being a particularly Francophone city…

However, there’s more than enough to compensate (when you’ve a back catalogue as rich as Keren Ann’s, what to leave out must be a bit of a challenge). There’s a haunting and poignant version of “You were on fire” ( a beautiful homage to her late father) before, harmonica to hand, we’re treated to “Chelsea burns.” I could finally witness this live after I got the Vegas show schedule and tickets. There’s also the best version – on record or live – of “Lay your head down”, arguably one of the greatest contemporary love songs ever-written and the finest 4’46” ever laid down in the studio… Tonight the song just felt personal… hard to explain really, but the message seemed to be addressed to all present.

Keren Ann is also a great story-teller, spending time to tell us of her thoughts and background to some of her songs; “All the beautiful girls” we discover is based upon an old lover – an artist – (“it’s not him – honest”) to whom the denouement is quite humorous, “I thought he was a genius. My friends thought he was an arsehole…”

Joking that old songs given new treatments are really new songs, we are treated to inventive reinterpretations of some standards; “The harder ships of the world” is layered with heavily echoed and reverbed keys. Keren unleashes her inner rock-chick on “It ‘ain’t no crime”, complete with psychedelic keys and a great tumbling jam to end; “Sugar mama” gets the “Peter Gunn” treatment and (with a nod to our location) a touch of the surf-rock guitar, while “My name is trouble” adds staccato guitar and “Blood on my hands” is textured with a deliberate change of pace during the middle-eight, featuring gunshots and ‘plink-plonk’ western saloon piano effects on the keys.

We’re finally treated to a brand new number from destined for her new album (as featured in this very Blog last December). The song is a haunting and biographical tale of a mother seeing in face of her child an old lover, is heart-warmingly evocative. If you haven’t already pledged to help fund her new album, do so now. There is no excuse!

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as the set ends with – probably to the public at large – her best known song, “Strange weather” and while we must thank both Anna Calvi and David Byrne for bring this song to everyone’s attention, here – with heavy reverb and echo, swirling keys and the guitar crying as if falling rain in a storm – Keren reclaimed ownership…

Keren encores with “Not going anywhere” – and visibly moved – an a cappella cover of the Chet Baker standard “It’s always you.” It was without a doubt the most moving performance I’ve seen…

Set list
1. “End of May”
2. “You were on fire”
3. “Chelsea burns”
4. “The harder ships of the world”
5. “Lay your head down”
6. “It ‘ain’t no crime”
7. “Sugar mama”
8. “Que n’ai je”
9. “All the beautiful girls”
10. “In your back”
11. “It’s all a lie”
12. “My name is trouble”
13. “Blood on my hands”
14. New song
15. “Strange weather”
16. “Not going anywhere”
17. “It’s always you” (Chet Baker cover

Lisbonne Télégramme

Lisbonne TelegrammeLisbonne Télégramme came about as the result of long distance emailing between Maritza Bossé-Pelchat and François Dufault of Montréal’s The Blue Seeds. Maritza (originally a contestant on the inaugural season of the French-Canadian TV show Star Académie), had taken a sabbatical from Québec in 2012 and was holed-up in the beautiful port city of Lisbon. The correspondence between the pair cemented their collaboration and upon her return to Canada, Maritza and François enlisted fellow The Blue Seeds members Martin Farmer and Eric Rathé, and Lisbonne Télégramme was born.

The fruits of their labours is the band’s debut album, “Miroir d’Automne”, a collection of nine intensely melancholic, atmospheric and spellbinding songs of love – or more accurately, hurt – hope and fear and introduces us to Maritza, who demonstrates that she would be more at home on “La Voix” than in any ‘Star Academy’.

The album opens with melancholy “Au loin” a deceptively simple country-folk tinged number that features a gorgeous weeping slide guitar and introduces us to Maritza’s voice – mournful, seductive, hypnotic.

Theme of love – or more often and accurately, aching hurt – are ones that recurs over and over again. The overwhelming mood of melancholy that is “Je n’ose plus” and a middle eight of sombre piano that perfectly captures the mood of the song, while “Autumn mirrors” features a haunting piano melody which focus attention on the beguiling vocals. The song features deft touches of violin and harmonious choruses, especially on the angelic coda.

And then there are the songs that highlight the pain of separation, especially “Où es-tu?”, a song framed by Sophie Trudeau’s (of Montréal’s avant-garde post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor) sympathetic violin, its omnipresence during the song’s chorus amplifies the hurt that distance brings.

However the two standout tracks upon first listening are “Fugitive”, with its majestic Mellotron and heavily reverbed guitar that creates a soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Sergio Leone western. There’s an orchestral quality that is perfectly married to Maritza’s deeply soulful voice. And then there’s “Bientôt”, a song which features heavily in reviews amongst the Francophone-Québec press and which has drawn comparisons with Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” To these ears the song – a powerful tale of a fiery maelstrom engulfing the city and it’s inhabitants – offers hints of both Forêt and the much missed Hôtel Morphée. It’s a really atmospheric track that bristles with an undercurrent of menace and offer a noticeable change of pace and depth, suggesting that Lisbonne Télégramme have much more to offer.

Laurine

LaurineLaurine Pilarski hails from Lille and when she’s not too busy writing screen plays and scripts for the court-métrage “Craquer pour elle” she’s writing, composing and singing delightfully intimate folk-tinged pop-songs in both French and English.

With an EP promised ‘when it’s ready’, she’s released a handful of tracks on Bandcamp that highlight not only her honey-dripped vocals, but also her multi-lingual song-writing and composition skills. All these songs are incredibly soothing, wistful and intimate. Perhaps this is what her bio means when it suggests that …her sorrows, they’re yours. Her songs, they’re talking about you…? The sweetness of her voice on these tracks is perfectly matched by Romain Parmentier’s acoustic guitar. There’s an overwhelming tranquillity to her sound that is just perfect for walking solitary on a deserted beach as the waves gently crash ashore.

Laurine lists amongst her musical influences Emilie Simon – with whom she sounds at times uncannily similar – and interestingly the tormented geniuses that were Nick Drake and the American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, which is discernible on the totally beguiling “Just friends”, performed in her whispering English.

But it’s the achingly beautiful “La fille à l’arrière des berlines” that first grabbed my attention, and as we tend to like ‘les filles qui chantent en français’ here, this is the track that I’ve selected for your listening pleasure…

Julie Blanche

JulieBlanceArtMontréal-based Julie Blanche featured on these very pages last year after she finished runner-up at that year’s Les Francouvertes (the annual French-Canadian music festival which acts as a showcase for emerging francophone artists). Enthusing over her auto-financed EP the overriding thought was that here was not so much a showcase but more of a teaser from an artist that we hoped would grace this blog again…

And now armed with her eponymously-titled debut album it’s probably safe to say that Julie has emerged with an album that should comfortably find a place in any end of year retrospective…

This album comprises ten haunting and melancholy bitter-sweet vignettes, that feel intensely personal and semi-biographical. Every song on this album tells a story, each one an episode imbued with a different emotion and each perfectly framed by the sparseness of Julie’s voice and beautifully counterpoised by the richness of the accompanying melody. Indeed, it’s this richness – that lends an underlying warmth to proceedings – which ensures the album never becoming over-sentimental or maudlin.

To be honest, I’m absolutely blown away by this album, thanks in no small part to the combination of the masterful compositions of Antoine Corriveau (Julie’s long-time collaborator and partner), producer Mathieu Charbonneau. and Julie’s crystalline voice that leaves you hanging on her every word. Every song on this album is truly memorable; “Deux visages”, the opening track and a tale of those conflicting passions, love and hate; “Le manège” and a lover scorned. There’s an underlining menace rippling not far below the surface of “Au bout de la nuit” and “Comme un décor”.

But lest you think the album is hard work, these songs are balanced by the wistful “Le fleuve au complet”, the ethereal “Presque” and the album’s closing number, “La vie facile”, an uplifting reminiscence of a life lived to the full.

This is truly an exceptional œuvre and although I’m pretty certain that I haven’t even began to convey how good an album this is, I’m immediately drawn to comparisons – and I’m not alone here – with fellow Québecoise Salomé Leclerc. There’s the same assured art of story-telling and the same range of emotions conveyed in the voice. Indeed in Francophone Canada the album has received rave reviews and is already being given serious consideration as an album of the year candidate…

Marie-Pierre Arthur

20150222 MPA Artwork2It’s probably safe to say that Marie-Pierre Arthur’s new album “Si l’aurore” has been eagerly awaited in these parts. However, those of you expecting it to follow the familiar well-worn chemin of her indie-rock and folk-tinged predecessors (2009’s eponymous debut and 2012’s break-out “Aux alentours”) might be in for a bit of a surprise…

“Si l’aurore” sees Marie-Pierre take a confident step-back into the past to create an album full of soulful, synthesiser-infused songs that hark-back to the era of late 70’s, early 80’s pop and an apparent love of “yacht rock” (shudders – wasn’t that why we invented Punk)? The single and opening track “Rien à faire” has already garnered rave reviews on these very pages and to these ears there’s more than a touch of the Fleetwood Mac to be detected.

The title track, “Si l’aurore”, is a nailed-on 80’s bluesy, dance-floor smoocher, while “Papillons de nuit” and “Il” sound like 70’s French pop-songs (which since they’re pop-songs – sung in French – probably isn’t that surprising); both are – to my mind – reminiscent of the group Il Était Une Fois.

It should be noted that whereas Marie-Pierre’s previous albums were primarily guitar-led (indeed she’s no mean bassist herself), keyboards are omnipresent here. However those longing for the Marie-Pierre of old should find comfort and solace with “La toile”, a fine contemporary pop-rock song, while “Cacher l’hiver” is an irresistible up-tempo number that could have quite easily been recorded during the sessions for “Aux alentours”, save there’s just a hint of the Stevie Nicks in the refrain (there’s those Fleetwood Mac references again).

Arguably though the most ambitious song on the album – and at a little over 6 minutes, also the longest – is “Comme avant”, which mixes her indie-folk past with the soft rock sound that she has encapsulated on this album. The retro-vibe is deliberately throttled back and for the first couple of minutes you could be mistaken that you’re listening to an out-take from her earlier albums… And then about half-way through, the mood suddenly changes; the song fades to simple piano and vocals interlude that ultimately climbs and soars… Just as it reaches a crescendo, it breaks-out into the most uplifting of saxophone solos (curtesy of Yannick Rieu) and a cacophony of keyboards and percussion. It’s an absolutely stunning composition and arguably amongst the best she’s recorded.

“Si l’aurore” is a good album, but it isn’t perfect. The lines between homage and cheesiness tend to become blurred and anyone expecting an album along the lines of Marie-Pierre Arthur’s earlier offerings might be disappointed. However, it’s still mighty fine and more than worth a listen…