Quebecois Music

Album review: Têtu, by Le Vent du Nord



There are certain phrases that hold massive magical power with me, people. “Great Big Sea is coming to town”, for one. “Let’s go out for sushi”, for another. “I just read and loved your latest book,” that one’s a contender. My favorite over the last couple of years, though, is hands down “a new album by Le Vent du Nord”. Têtu is album number eight for mes gars, and the sixth one with the lineup of Nicolas Boulerice, Olivier Demers, Simon Beaudry, and Réjean Brunet (counting four studio albums, the live album Mesdames et messieurs, and my beloved Symphonique)!

You may take it as read at this point that yeah, I’m going to adore anything these boys do. That goes without saying, since I’ve spent a whole lot of energy here on my blog and on social media not being able to shut up about them. But when they drop a new album, I get to actually back up my fangirling with evidence. I get to talk about not only adoring the music of this band, but why I adore it, too. And despite this post I made earlier today, I do not really have the French vocabulary yet to talk properly about this album. So I’m going to do it in English.

Overall picoreview first! This is the longest Le Vent album yet, with a total of 15 tracks, and there’s a whole lot to love with each one. After all the time these boys have spent playing together, they’ve pretty much got this down to an art and a science, and it shows here. Têtu is a tight, expert production, one in which the joy of the music shines through on every note. If you’re a fan of this band, you’re going to relish this album. If you’re not a fan yet, I submit for consideration that this would be an excellent album to use as your first introduction to them. Instrumentally and vocally, les gars are at the top of their game. And there are particularly high quantities of Simon Beaudry singing lead on things, and that’s always a good thing.

And now, track by track commentary behind the fold!

“Noce tragique”: Here we have Simon Beaudry opening the album with some of what he does best: some darkly plaintive singing, which fits entirely well with a song title like “Noce tragique”, “tragic wedding”. And yeah, now that I’ve actually seen the lyrics, I can glean enough of what’s going on in them to conclude that yeah, the story here is about as dire as I was expecting, given the title, the minor key, and the overall dire timbre of the song.

This was one of the songs the boys did at the last show of theirs I saw, and it’s delightful to see it lead off the album here!

“Loup-garou”: Nicolas Boulerice by contrast sounds almost perky with the next track. “Loup-garou” is arguably one of the few phrases many Americans might actually recognize without actually studying French, and I’m no exception; I knew a long time ago that this was the word for “werewolf”. Scanning the lyrics, I’m seeing references in there that suggest the mysterious man described in the song has been ensorcelled and excommunicated by the church. I don’t have enough context to get more than that, but nevertheless, the SF geek in me is amused. Last album we got a dragon story, this one we get a werewolf. I cannot complain in the slightest if Le Vent wants to keep serving up a bit of mythology along with their music! Musically, the key and style of the song do seem a little bit brighter than I’d expect for a song about a werewolf, but that may well be a good thing, if his story’s meant to end well? Clearly I need to study these lyrics further.

“Le rosier”: Back to Simon for track 3, although a bit less darkly plaintive now. But we’ve definitely got more imagery of love going on here, with a chorus about white and red roses. And partway through, we get some delicious harmony on the response lines. Oliver Demers keeps up a subtle and steady rhythm underneath the singing, and there’s plenty of accents from the violin as well, but mostly this song’s all about the vocals. And ooh my yes, particularly towards the end, when the instruments fall out. A trick for emphasis I’m long familiar with in trad, but it’s a familiar trick because it works.

“Cardeuse – Riopel”: The first instrumental on the album. One of the slightly maddening things about being the novice at Quebec tunes that I am is that I’ve listened to a lot of tunes–but with some exceptions, I still can’t tell most of them apart well enough to recognize a specific tune when I hear it. Here, I keep hearing phrases in the first bit that sound familiar, and I’m half-convinced I may have heard them maybe via La Bottine Souriante. But don’t quote me on that. Regardless, an instrumental out of Le Vent is generally always a joy, and this time is no exception. This one’s kind of laid back overall, jaunty and relaxed.

“Confédération”: Oh, now we’re talking. 😀 This is another one Le Vent did at the Vancouver show, and I’d also already seen the video they released of it. Here we have the political commentary, and now that I can actually see the lyrics, they’re pretty much what I was expecting. And they fit in well with my friend Geri’s prediction that “yeah, they’ll LOVE this in Ontario”. *snerk*

Musically, the song’s quite jaunty, but with some intriguing minor-y bits here and there, enough to give the seemingly major melody some substance and nuance. Which seems rather appropriate for its subject matter. And I continue to have significant respect for M. Boulerice’s ability to elide his way through lyrics while sounding very crisp and precise at the same time. (Which is entirely maddening for the ear of a newbie at French, and this is why I need to see lyrics before I can actually properly parse them!)

“Chaise ardente”: Simon and Nico trade off singing lead on this, which is a first, and a pleasure to hear. This is another song that’s mostly all about the vocals and the call and response, with the instruments playing second fiddle. Er, as it were. (Ar ar ar.)

I’m seeing some references to Satan in the lyrics, which is fitting for what I know of trad music in general and Quebec trad in particular. Difficult to swing a stick anywhere in the genre without hitting a song in which the devil is up to something!

There’s an instrumental outro, with some unexpectedly high notes out of–an accordion? I’m not sure! Higher than I’m quite used to hearing out of an accordion, anyway. It sounds neat.

“D’ouest en est”: The second instrumental on the album. The title means “from west to east”, which is a rather apt description of my musical affections, I feel! This one’s got a bit more muscle to the beat, and it picks up considerably partway through. I can totally hear a session tearing through this. A room full of fiddles and accordions would have great fun with it (and if I might modestly daydream of a lone flute and whistle player on the edges, I think nobody would begrudge me, eh).

“Forillon”: I’ll say right out that I was sad, sad I tell you, to realize that the singer here was not a voice I recognized. It wasn’t Nicolas or Simon or Réjean, and as soon as I heard the preview on iTunes, my heart jumped; were we actually going to get to hear Olivier sing lead on something for once? But alas, it was not to be! *sniff* I’ll have to wait a while longer for this, I guess!

Which is not to say that the guest singer they’ve brought in for this track is bad, because he’s not! He’s very much up to the level of les gars, even though adding his voice to the mix makes it sound overall not entirely like Le Vent, at least vocally. (Which I suppose is appropriate, given that he’s the dominant voice here.) Musically and instrumentally, it’s still absolutely them.

And of course Olivier’s all over this song anyway with the fiddle. He takes us out quite deftly on the final measures, where for that matter I’m pretty darned sure I’m hearing extra instruments–at least one extra violin. But what I don’t know is whether Olo’s playing all the parts there and they overlaid him over himself, or whether there are actual guest musicians here. This’ll have to wait till I see the digital booklet!

“Petit rêve IX”: And I can forgive the album getting my hopes up and then stomping on them like that (*sadface*) for what it gives us with this track–i.e., Olivier on the guitar. The guitar work on the opening stretches of this is gorgeous, and I point to this as a testimony to how M. Demers knows his way around a guitar every bit as well as he does his violin. I’ve loved every one of the Petit Rêve tracks so far and this one’s another lovely addition to the set. I’m already wondering how it’ll sound on one of my deeper-voiced flutes!

(This and the next one were also done at the Vancouver show, and I’m here to tell you, if you have a chance to see Le Vent live in the next several months–GO. Because you’ll get to see Olivier play guitar and that is not to be missed!)

“Pauvre enfant”: Back to Simon! He’s in excellent voice here, and yet again with a plaintive mostly minor song–yet here, too, the song surprises. There are outbreaks of beautiful major harmony on the choruses, and the final lines of each chorus resolve on a major note. One hopes therefore that the poor child of the song won’t always have a sucky life!

And oh hey, a lovely fiddle bridge in the middle, too. And ooh, did I hear some deeper-than-fiddle bow strikes behind one of those verses? Is Réjean bowing his bass again, or did they bring in a cello? This is what I get for not paying close enough attention to what Réjean was doing during this song in Vancouver!

“Entre ciel et terre”: Ah here we go, the instrumental they did in Vancouver, wherein I was itching to try to figure out the first bit of this on a flute or a whistle. Hearing it again, I’m feeling hopeful I can actually figure this one out, and it’ll be fun to try!

I’m hearing some lovely interplay between the accordion, violin, and hurdy-gurdy here, each one taking turns before they come together on later passages. Partway through, in the transition to the second tune, we get some nice guitar out of Simon, too–I remember seeing him do this at the show–and then we finally get Olivier on the feet as the tempo picks up.

On the third tune, we open up for serious musical business. This is what I’m talking about. This is Le Vent du Nord at their instrumental best. <3

“L’échafaud”: Ooh, this’ll be this album’s contribution to the catalogue of Le Vent’s almost entirely a cappella songs. I say ‘almost’, because there’s some bass in the background here–but that’s it for instrumentation. This song doesn’t need it. I’m not kidding when I say the harmony here practically brings tears to my eyes. Damn, guys, this is beautiful. Sad-sounding, too… and SHORT. And leading right into…

“La marche des Iroquois”: Oh HELL YES. Fire the turlutte cannons, Capitaine Nico! This is a broadside of pure vocal turlutte goodness, and once they head into the second tune, HOLY CRAP the harmony. THE BASS. THIS is the track that made me set up and take notice in Vancouver, because I had had no prior conception that Olivier Demers could make those noises. For that alone, I think this may just have stomped all over Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer’s “Les turlutes” on their live album for My Favorite Turlutte Track Ever.

I had been previously mentally combining this track with the next one, but now I know that they’re actually two different tracks. Very hard to tell that, because both in concert and on this album, this track shoots straight into…

“Papineau”: More turluttes to lead us in–but Réjean and Olo and Simon keep that going while Nico starts layering in actual words. Syncopated to hell and back all over the backup vocals. DAMN, SON!

WOW. And let me emphasize–these last three tracks make a hell of a one-two-three punch. After those, it’s probably for the best that they close the album off with something entirely different!

“Amant volage”: Namely, we’re back to Simon again! He opened the album, and he gets to close it, too! All sorts of vocal goodness with Simon riding the high end of his range, and all sorts of rhythm action and clapping all over the place, too. I’m not entirely sure, but there may even be extra voices in there!

In conclusion: if you’re a fan of the Quebec trad genre like me, chances are high you already know about this album and have even probably already preordered it. But just in case you haven’t, f’r chrissakes, get this thing. It’s gorgeous and you owe it to your ears!

The album’s up now on Le Vent’s Bandcamp page, wherein you can hear with your very own ears all fifteen reasons why this album needs to be in your collection NOW. (Bandcamp being how I was able to hear it before the release date!) It’s also preorderable on iTunes (US and CA) and Amazon (Digital and CD).

Têtu releases March 31st! And be on the lookout for Le Vent to maybe come and sing some of this goodness at a show near you!

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