The Holidays are closing in. Are you wondering what gifts to buy this year? You’re looking for the original gift, the one that will surprise and please? Why not expand the musical horizons of a loved one, a colleague at work, or a cousin you haven’t seen since last Christmas? Here’s my highly personal selection of gift ideas to introduce someone (or yourself, you’re allowed to indulge from time to time!) to the wonderful world of "musique actuelle."
That good ol’ song
It may seem a bit easy, but everyone likes a good song. That said, we don’t all have the same definition of what a good song is. And the artists in DAME’s catalog take some liberties with this format — that’s what makes things exciting. But Geneviève Letarte’s Chansons d’un jour will please anyone looking for songs with intelligent, accessible melodies and poetic lyrics. The soft melancholy of Chants des adieux, chants de la solitude will profoundly move dreamers in search of a different voice (Lou Babin’s, irresistible).
You don’t understand French? The lyrics of Jerry Snell’s album Life in the Suicide Riots will make you think hard about the world we live in. And the chugging guitar riffs of André Duchesne ’s Locomotive will catch the attention of any rock fan, even one deaf to French. Speaking of rock, the deconstructed rock of the all-female group Justine can keep you busy for a while, lyrics or no lyrics. Their first album (Suite) is a powerful mixture of progressist rock, while their second Langages fantastiques leans more toward improvised songs. If you want a taste of what songwriting avant-garde artists can come up with, try the compilation album Chante! 1985-2000, a wide and wild selection of unusual songs.
A time for celebrating, letting off steam, and disobedience, the party when applied to music can give way to a distortion of admitted rules. L’Orkestre des pas perdusinjects a new form of circus life into fanfare music, an infectious R ’n’ B (rhythm ’n’ brass, of course) that will refresh any parade. Its cousin Les Projectionnistes (both bands are led by Claude St-Jean) trades circus for rock and the brass section transforms from funny fanfare to frenetic funk. Taking a different approach, the Fanfare Pourpour leaves the official parade attire behind to favor the spontaneity of a street fanfare. It’s music for "everyone" (Tout le monde, the title of their first album) without dropping to the lowest common denominator.
In a similar spirit, but adding an East-European flavor and an incredible dose of energy is the group Interférence Sardines, which features two members of the neo-trad group Les Batinses. Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms walks a jazzier road, but its frivolous side easily becomes delightfully exuberant. The group’s three albums are all highly recommended, but Carnets de voyage remains an excellent place to start. And I find the same spirit of excessiveness and raw emotion in La boulezaille (Pierre Langevin and Pierre Tanguay) and Plinc! Plonc! (Jean Derome and Pierre Tanguay), two albums where world music, jazz and free improvisation collide.
And to boldly go where few have gone before
Maybe you would like to go further and hook someone on a kind of "musique actuelle" that is more daring and abstract. Here are a few key albums from DAME’s catalogue in improvised and electronic music.
Martin Tétreault is one of the most fascinating experimental artists right now. His technique at the turntable spins 45 questions per minute. His recent album with Diane Labrosse, Parasites, puts disquieting quiet sounds under the microscope. And Studio — Analogique — Numérique, his fresh collaboration with the Japanese mastermind Yoshihide Otomo, proposes cutting-edge sonic research in very original packaging: a box set of three 3" CDs.
A pillar of the avant-garde music scene since the early ‘70s, Fred Frith remains the favorite of many connoisseurs. The two albums by the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet (with René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart) are essential listens. DAME also distributes the titles released by Frith’s own Fred Records.
One of the first groups from the DAME stables to have explored electroacoustic improvisation, the Klaxon Gueule trio revels in noisy textures and demanding pleasures. Their last two albums Muets and Grain met critical acclaim. And I also want to mention the Ohmix compilation album, a daring electronic project where select artists (including Martin Tétreault, David Kristian, John Oswald, Terre Thaemlitz, and Ralf Wehowsky) remix the albums of the label Avatar.
Finally, instead of sending out the usual Christmas cards, consider the sound post cards produced by the label Ouïe-Dire. These are regular post cards accompanied by 3" CDs from French experimental artists. And happy Holidays!