Thursday, 14 March 2013

Fanny Bloom at Cabaret du Mile-End

Fanny Bloom at Cabaret du Mile-End


It’s kind of the thing in indie right now: layering. Musicians play around with synth sounds that are usually characterized by what could be described as a computerized aesthetic, and they use them in catchy melodies, that they then proceed to pile in their songs. Often, the sonority of each layer is very distinct of that of the other ones, and the result is quite interesting: an eclectic blend of flavours that don’t necessarily seem
to match with one another when one listens to them one by one, but that somehow do when they’re brought together. Like a cocktail of an odd colour that ends up being surprisingly tasty.

Locally, a few acts appear to be creating in such a way, Grimes being, perhaps, the most prominent figure. Another prime example is Montreal-based Mozart’s Sister, who opened for Fanny Bloom on February 28th at Cabaret du Mile-End. Frontwoman Caila Thompson-Hannant showed up on stage with mountains of electronic gear, backed up by a very focused bassist, and a solidly skilled keyboardist and backup singer. She was herself standing in front of a fair amount of knobs and buttons, with which she fiddled throughout the show.

However, what made the hair stand on my arms when the trio (which was reduced to a duo, and even a solo unit for some songs) was in action is not merely the layering of colourful loops and synth melodies, but rather Thompson-Hannant’s unearthly voice. Unlike Grimes, who seem to be treating her vocals as one layer amongst others (the amount of reverb, pitch-bend and effects she infuses in them is a good demonstration of that), Mozart’s Sister opted to have its lead singer’s pipes hold the leading role. Indeed, her soulful, deep delivery truly steals the show, and gives the band’s sound a definite indie feel. Several of the band’s simple, yet very efficient pieces rely on the repetition of a single line over bassy (sometimes ground-shaking) slow beats and upbeat synth lines that are usually created with a loop pedal and a bunch of gadgets. Often during the performance, it took Thompson-Hannant a few seconds to put together the groove that would serve as the basis for a song. Great harmonies and tight bass lines sweetened the deal, making it hard to believe that this unit is only three people strong.

Mozart’s Sister great performance served as a fitting introduction for the next act, local indiepop sensation Fanny Bloom. The former singer of now-split tropical-flavoured pop rock act La Patère Rose did not lose a second when the band she was fronting vanished against her will (rumour has it that the band’s break-up was definitely not her decision), and she almost immediately came up with her own solo record titled Apprentie guerrière (Novice Warrior). There are two major reasons why this record is worth music lovers’ attention, in my very humble opinion. First, Bloom surrounded herself well, getting a crew of experienced musicians onboard, including composer and producer Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier (who was playing keys and twisting knobs that night; he also plays synths on the Lemming Ways’ most recent EP Two / Poles). She even managed, don’t ask me how, to team up with superstar singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe (whose newest album Punkt is being announced everywhere at the moment) for one of her LP’s most touching piece, a song about carelessness in the face of grief, simply titled Annie. Second, although La Patère Rose’s fans could probably recognize Bloom’s song-writing style in that solo effort, there really is a cleavage between her former band’s sound and her new aesthetic.

Indeed, whilst La Patère Rose was known for its sunshiny melodies, its upbeat ukulele riffs, its electropop resonance, and its dash of punk-rock energy, Bloom decided to go for a dryer, more atmospheric mood for her own project. Dupuis-Cloutier helped her forge a very intricate sonority, one that is largely based on 80s-sounding drums and ethereal, foggy synths. However, unlike the abovementioned layering-oriented acts, she added a traditional music element to the whole thing, mainly because she is a gifted pianist. All of this gives a profound, heavy vibe to her record, which does have its happy moments (Tes bijoux, for instance), but which definitely does not sound like a project that was born during a joyful period. The beautifully-written lyrics, also soaked in a relative gravity, serve as a proof of that.

You should have seen the stage of Cabaret du Mile-End that night. Skinny, long logs were hung from the ceiling, in front of a massive blurry image of a forest, in a cloud of purple and pink smoke. After a strange, experimental glitchy intro, Stéphane Leclerc (guitar), Laurence Lafond-Beaulne (bass), Philippe Bilodeau (drums), Étienne Dupuis-Cloutier and, of course, Fanny Bloom took over the stage and dove right into Annie (much to yours truly’s satisfaction).

I must admit that it took me a few listening sessions to start to truly appreciate Bloom's album. It's the kind of record that grows on you, the kind which you don't fall in love instantly, but that has better chance than others to remain in your collection after a few years. However, seeing her live, backed up by a whole band, didn't even give me time to ask myself if I truly enjoyed it or not: I just did, without a shadow of a doubt. Bloom sometimes sung from behind her keyboard, or else stood with her microphone in hand, and she always did with a generous dose of emotions and theatrical expressions. 

Behind her, her crew was doing wonders: Bilodeau’s elaborate beats were steady and fat, Leclerc’s mastery of his guitar’s whammy bar was stunning (an astonishing aesthetic idea to add to that atmospheric vibe), Dupuis-Cloutier bent the vaporous synth notes that he confidently hit with an emotional look in his eyes, while Lafond-Beaulne was supporting the whole, thanks to her thick bass lines and on-the-dot back vocals. The latter, in some songs, were the element that would give an otherwise fairly simple piece stunning musical depth: her voice and Bloom’s flowed together poetically, in a breathtaking display of vocal skills (especially for the piece Mon hiver). Also, something has to be said about the way the synth melodies and the drum patterns would interact with each other very cohesively, with the bass notes serving has the providers of a sharp edge for them. The unit’s teamwork was very convincing, especially in the sometimes surprisingly long jams that would punctuate Bloom’s very solid songs. Of course, she did not forget to play a few La Patère Rose songs, which made the long-time fans visibly happy.

As it is often the case for indie acts, that live performance was a touch heavier than its recorded counterpart, and rendered in amazing fashion the overall ambient feel that Bloom’s album possesses. The future looks bright for the indiepop lovers who like their lyrics to be good, because it sure seems like Fanny Bloom is not done shining. Case in point.

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