201407xx Magdalen Portrait 1

According to Wikipedia, the defining characteristic of Chanson is that it focuses on the French language as both vehicle and instrument. In which case it is fair to say that young Strasbourg-based singer-songwriter, Magdalen, is most definitely a Chanteuse.

“En vers et contre tout” is her crowd-funded debut album. It’s an intriguing and multi-faceted work, weaving together as it does electro-pop and electronica, alongside indie, acoustic pop and hip-hop beats.

The album’s title “En vers et contre tout” is a play on the phrase “envers et contre tout” (“against all odds”) – translated into English it becomes “In verse and against all,” which is very apt as this is a challenging, confrontational – and quite adult – an album. Even iTunes here in the States has managed to plaster a ‘Parental Advisory Explicit Content’ sticker on the front.

Magdalen manages to expertly craft rhythms with challenging and forthright lyricism, tackling sexism head-on; “Demi-molle” and “Pas dans ma bouche” need no explanation.

But it’s not all about confrontation; “Faveur d’exception” is simply a beautiful love song. The chorus could quite easily segue in and out of “Ouvre ton cœur!” from Catherine Leduc’s outstanding “Rookie”, while the haunting acoustic number; “Supplique à larmes” explores the futility and all-consuming nature of desire.

En vers et contre tout” is a very personal album and one that has been crafted without compromise… It’s also an album of Chansons in the truest sense. The lyrics – paroles – and Magdalen’s distinctive and transfixing vocals are the focal point throughout this impressive collection of songs.

Catherine Leduc

2014-04-16-12-25-19-ARTS - Rencontre avecOriginally the female half of Canadian folk-pop duo Tricot Machine, “Rookie” is the debut solo album from Catherine Leduc, and despite the fact that Matthieu Beaumont – long-time partner and the other half of the Tricot Machine – helped produce, mix and play on a number of the keyboards, the sound is far removed from the frothy, bouncy – cute – piano-based pop that the duo were renowned. In it’s place is an incredibly dreamy, melancholic, atmospheric and ye, more mature, sound. Similar to Fanny Bloom (the voice behind La Patère Rose) and her own stunning 2012 solo “Apprentie Guerrière, “Rookie” sees Catherine Leduc blossom and deliver as assured an album as is likely to be released this year.

“Rookie” may seem a strange title for an album from an artist who in one guise or another has been performing and recording for over a decade, but as Catherine has revealed in interviews in the French-Canadian press, this album really is about starting out afresh and (re)defining herself, musically.

The haunting introduction to “Les Vieu hiboux” – with polysynth owls swooping through the midnight forest – sets the melancholic theme that is developed through the ten peerless songs featured here, all aided by the added tinge of fragility that Catherine’s vocals deliver. This feeling of melancholy is further driven home on the sublime “Vendredi Saint.” It’s an absolutely beautiful song – the construction – building from a solo acoustic guitar accompanying incredibly resonant lyrics that would surely melt the iciest of hearts – is as powerful as it is simply executed.

“Pee-Wee BB” sees Catherine explore through junior (ice) hockey, themes of inferiority and overcoming adversity – themes which again are woven through the album; while “Polatouche” adds glockenspiel with overdubbed vocals and the most angelic of choruses to a perfectly paced song.

It’s hard to pick out a stand-out track on an album of such high quality – the absence of a review of all the album’ songs is primarily one of brevity – but “Il faut se lever le matin”, with deep plucked bass chord, and the album’s closing number “Ouvre ton coeur!” with it’s soaring – imploring – chorus and uptempo hook are the songs that I keep returning to… And the ones that makes me yearn for more…

“Rookie” is one of this year’s outstanding albums – irrespective of language. Should further recommendation be required, it has, in my humble opinion, the same wow (as in “Wow! WTF was that?”) factor as Forêt’s astonishing debut from last year.

This album is year-list material…