In the context of all that hoopla up Canada way about Quebec seceding, not to mention the huff over which language to use, it is no surprise that a record produced by Québécois, casting itself as an exploration of “resistance and anarchist, pacifist, feminist joy”, is a challenging listen. If you are going to explore politics in the Great White North, you must make it difficult, even if you are a musician.
For Océan à Vendre/For Sale, Montréal-based avant-garde guitarist Chenard is up to her waist in collaboration with bassist Asencio. The politically themed electro-jazz-cum-space-rock compositions, all of which — by their French titles — proclaim that something is for sale, are dressed up with mechanistic noise and buried beats, so there often isn’t an organic vibe to the guitar and bass jams. In fact, some numbers, including Sommet à vendre, focus primarily on feedback, tape static and glistening bleeps, obscuring almost all of the guitar and bass work. Océan à vendre is occasionally so noisy it approaches Einstürzende Neubatenish levels of clang and clamor.
Although Océan à vendre can be a very disorienting listen, by its sheer nature there seems to be something for almost everyone here. Sommet à vendre offers a bit of electro-noise and buzzing amps, while the loopy bass-driven jam Planète à vendre gives Asencio an opportunity to tinker with a funky, Victor Woottenish aesthetic — he creates a bed of loping bass notes, over which Chenard slithers various guitar noodles. Rouge à vendre showcases a set of Chenard’s noodles, reminiscent of Bill Frisell’s, laid over a wavering, Tones on Tail-esque bass figure.
At first, Océan à vendre seems a bit intimidating. However, if you ignore its political jargon (which is easy if you know as little French as I do) and approach it as a collection of abstract musical sketches and explorations, it is more readily digestible. Though Chenard and Asencio make a point of wearing their political leanings on their sleeves, it is debatable whether their art suffers at all when separated from their ideologies. At its core, this record is an imaginative 66 minutes of out-there jazz, and that is something we can all get behind.