Regardless of contrarian views from certain members of the populace, the French have given us countless things to be thankful for: Writers like Baudelaire, thinkers like Foucault, filmmakers like Truffaut, and the countless legions of talented French-Canadians populating Quebec. Among those talents, from Montreal--the new de facto music capital of Quebec (hell, Canada)--we find Malajube; or, the tiny French-Canadian band who could.
After releasing the concise and enjoyable Le Compte Complet in 2004, Malajube upped the ante with 2006's blissfully spastic Trompe-l'Oeil. Scoring rave reviews from sources as wildly varied as Pitchfork (hipster barometer inc.) to Men's Health and Vanity Fair (not so much), the group's sophomore release has enabled them to launch their first U.S. headlining tour.
The kicker? They sing entirely in French.
The ultimate kicker is that when you release an album as instantly appealing and catchy as Trompe-l'Oeil, it could be sung in gibberish without affecting the outcome; and that's meant as the highest compliment. Yes, Malajube's lyrics are important and definitely add a richer layer for fans who understand French, but their incomprehensibility certainly does not hinder the experience for the rest of us.
The proof can be found instantaneously when Trompe-l'Oeil opens with teaser "Jus de Canneberges." With its forlorn finger-picking, ethereal vocals and foreign flavor, it perfectly whets the listener's interest. And, with little delay, "Montréal -40°C" blasts through the speakers in pure exhilaration. It is one of most thrilling slices of pop music in recent memory--oscillating through its various movements with reckless joy--and it certainly foreshadows what is one of the more scintillating 50 minutes of music to follow.
If you're still on the wall about the whole singing-in-French thing, go to their Web site and download "Montréal -40°C." Then, purchase your ticket for their show at Plush, and enjoy. Buying the album, at the show or before, you will find yourself consistently replaying tracks, moments and, ultimately, the whole damn thing. The album's serpentine shifts are what make it such an enjoyable listen.
The group's bassist Mathieu Cournoyer perfectly explained the group's ethos over the phone during the group's stop in Chicago, regarding their chameleon-like tunes, "I like it when it can go up really loud and then down and quiet right after, and back or the other way."
Cournoyer and the gang--Julien Mineau (vocals, guitars), Francis Mineau (drums), Thomas Augustin (keyboards, vocals) and newest member Renaud Bastien (guitar, keyboards)--"He's like our Flav," Cournoyer noted--have begun to see the results of recording and releasing such an accessibly quirky album in the directly tangible terms of show attendance and fan appreciation. Still, such guileless acceptance by American audiences seems strange to the band.
"I think it's very crazy," Cournoyer said. "We always thought that Americans would--because it's French--that they wouldn't like it, but so far, so good."
The group is certainly not taking its particular opportunity for granted.
"To tour the states, in French, is a first-time thing," Cournoyer said. "It's something no other band has done, and it's pretty exciting." Nevertheless, such embracing of their newfound American audience won't likely affect future recordings. The group has never catered their music to American tastes and doesn't foresee a transition anytime soon.
"We didn't even think, 'Is this gonna work anywhere else?'" Cournoyer said. "We just said, 'Let's have fun and be comfortable with what we sing.'" Does that mean we might never hear the group sing in our tongue? "I don't think we're gonna switch," Cournoyer said, "but you can never say never."
And, with a laugh, "I can say I hope not."
It could be foolish to cater to their second-most-rabid fan base, as Trompe-l'Oeil is a bona fide hit in Canada, reaching sales of 22,000 copies (and growing). Refreshingly, the group is energetic and optimistic enough to avoid falling into a rut onstage: "It can be weird to do the same exact thing every night," Cournoyer said, "so every night, you have to find something exciting to change the show. If not, you get bored after a month." One only hopes they hold onto such an attitude as long as they can, because it won't be long before fans whine about not hearing "La Monogamie" or "Pâte Filo" on a nightly basis.
In defense, I offer Malajube the following bilingual responses: "C'est la vie" or, more provincially, "Tough shit."