And here are Southern California’s “Top Tubes”. The more astute amongst you will note the list is limited to only eight entries, a paucity which says less about the quality of the music, more to the inability of the artists’ recording labels to make their work available here in the States…

8. Mademoiselle Nineteen – Mademoiselle Nineteen

It’s as if Bacharach and David were French and had written “Julliet brillait ” for Mademoiselle Nineteen. This is not to say that Juliette Wathieu is stuck in a 60’s time warp, rather that every gem of inspired pop on her debut album looks forward by looking back (especially in the ye-ye influenced “Dormir le restant de ma vie”). Not unsurprising given that Jacques Duvall (he of last year’s stunning duet with Coralie Clément, “Comme par désenchantement”) and more than 30 years of finely crafted hits behind him, has his finely honed fingerprints all over the album, never more so than on “Quelle importance”. All in all a worthy introduction to this year’s top recommendations.

7. Mylene Farmer – Monkey Me
L’Ange Rouge returns with a new album, is reunited with long-term collaborator Laurent Boutonnat and returns to her musical roots. Then throw in beat-box, synthesisers and add her full sweeping vocal range to haunting ballads (“Elle a dit”, “je te dis tout”), up-tempo dance numbers (“A l’ombre”, “Tu ne le dis pas”) and pure pop (“Monkey Me”). And yes you may argue, it’s just like any other Mylene Farmer album. But that’s the whole point, Mylene has always been equally comfortable as both torch singer and diva, a role that transatlantic artists such as Madonna and Lady Gaga strive to equal… The fact that this album isn’t my automatic number one just reinforces the fact that there have been some incredibly strong releases this year…

6. Porcelaine – La Foire aux Animaux
The promise of Porecelaine’s debut album being a return to “the pomp and spirit of the 70’s”, was viewed with a degree of trepidation. And while “Ange” somewhat reminds me of – yes – 70’s French band Il était une fois, the reality is that this album contains 12 nigh-on perfectly crafted pop gems which allows Montreal-based Melanie Scala ample room to showcase her undoubted Filles Fragiles credentials, one that she and the band pass with flying colours. It’s near impossible to pick out stand-out tracks given the quality of songs on display, but check out the achingly beautiful “Sarracénie” or the sweeping “Machin et Machine” for two examples from this stunning debut.

5. Fanny Bloom – Apprentie Guerrière
2012 was the year that the Fanny Grosjean, the voice behind La Patère Rose, grew up and blossomed. Apprentie Guerrière is a stunning debut album, confident and assured. This is an artist who knows where she wants to go, from the Hammond organ on “Ce que je voudais”, the haunting title track and the pure pop of “Respirer la fumee”, this is, as FS contributor Maks put it, a mature and diverse album. I’d go further. This is a stake in the ground from an artist who could make a significant contribution in the next few years.

4. Wendy Nazare – À Tire d’Ailes
Thank you fellow FS reader David for introducing these ears to this stunning album from Belgium-based Wendy Nazare. Part reflective and introverted on “Quand tu le pourras” or “Une fille de trop”, part pure pop “Tout ou rien” or the expertly crafted “Lisboa”, À Tire d’Ailes is effortlessly put together and as good an album as was released in the second half of the year. Want more proof? If Nick Cave wasn’t such a miserable beggar he’d cover “Ma ritournelle”, without thinking twice…

3. Marie-Pierre Arthur – Aux Alentours
Another year and another Quebecoise (the one without the tats) is faced with the daunting task of how to top her critically acclaimed debut album… Result? In a similar fashion Marie-Pierre Arthur follows up with the absolutely stunning Aux Alentours. The album’s opener, the up-tempo “Fil de soie” has to be track of the year, while “Si tu savais” is as good an example of Quebec country-folk as you’ll hear all year. Showing her new-found maturity, Ms Arthur borrows Iggy’s riff from “Lust for Life”, adds to “Emmene-moi” and makes it her own. Indeed, this was so close to being my album of the year…

2. Ingrid St-Pierre – L’Escapade
Until David (again) sub-consciously told me to check out Ingrid’s L’escapade. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of listening to her voice. There’s a haunting – yes – fragile quality to Ingrid that leads to an aural overdose. From the velvety (sorry) opening track “La chocolaterie” to the pure chanson that is “Coin Liverwort” are just two such beautifully crafted examples. FS regulars will probably latch on to the Fanny Bloom influenced “La planque a libellules”, while the folksy “La coute echelle”is classic Quebec country-folk. But what finally swings the vote for L’Escapade being named album of the year was the fact that no sooner has this album been dissected than I sought out and bought her earlier debut oeuvre Ma petite mam’zelle de chemin, which also comes highly recommended.

1. Les soeurs Boulay – Les soeurs Boulay
But ultimately, note perfect harmonies from Gaspesie’s Boulay sisters, Melanie and Stephanie (no relation to the somewhat better known Isabelle), ensure that their eponymous titled debut wins both this critic’s artist and EP of the year awards. Like a number of their contemporaries, the Quebec-based duo’s sound is tinged with soft country-folk melodies, but stripped bare to just the basics of accompanying acoustic guitar or ukulele (you can never have too much ukulele) means that the girls’ angelic voices are always to the fore, non-more so than on “Lola”.

2012 proved to be a rather successful year for the Melanie and Stephanie. Flush from their exposure in the pages of this very blog, they romped home at the 16th edition of Montreal’s prestigious “Francouvertes” awards and last month signed with Dare to Care / GrossBoite records (home to such FS favourites as Fanny Bloom and a certain Beatrice Martin…). 2013 should see the sisters post a strong contender for album of that year.
Steve in SoCal

Written by guuzbourg

French girls, singing. No, sighing. Making me sigh. Ah.