Melisande: May 2020 Artist of the Month

électrotrad Les Myriades
Borealis Records

Quebec was once dubbed La Belle Province. I reckon that’s for its geographical splendor but if, like me, you find yourself swept up in the raucous joy of Quebeçois music, you have experienced a different kind of beauty. It’s the sort that cracks the bones of the human experience to extract the sweetness from its marrow. Quebeçois music is seldom quiet or constrained; it compels you to move to keep time with clogging feet.

Even the greatest traditional music needs a little jolt now and then to prevent it from becoming stale. The band Mélisande derives its name from lead singer, Mélisande de Grosbois-Garand, but her name translates as honey bee and denotes strength. She and her husband Alexandre (flute, programming), plus band mates Gabriel Ethier (programming), David Boulanger (fiddle, banjo, vocals), and Félix-Antoine Beaudoin (drums) put a muscular electric sting into old songs. In doing so, take traditional music into the 21st century, partly by removing some of its patriarchal elements, but mostly by tossing it into a blender with whatever suits them at the time: heavy bass, electronic looping, break dancing, glam rock voguing, rave-like energy…. Plus, Boulanger’s feet are always in motion and Quebeçois fiddling has so many Scottish and Irish echoes that French-Canadian music is often viewed as Celtic. Mélisande call their approach électrotrad, and it’s an apt handle.

The band’s latest record, Les Myriades is both plugged in and electrifying. “Demain je m’en vas” (“Tomorrow I’m Leaving”) would certainly be at home in a club with soap suds pouring from the balcony and dancers swaying to programmed pulses and beats. They get funky with “Ti-Pétard Allard,” and they use echo effects to update “Le cou de ma bouteille” (“The Neck of My Bottle”) a call-and-response song that has musical segues highly reminiscent of the Scottish band Capercaillie. (Mélisande de Grosbois-Garand often reminds me of Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson in her vocal inflections.)

I loved every track from Les Myriades, but several really grabbed me. One was “Tapetipetep,” which is just fun: drums, feet, jaw harp, wild fiddling, energized programing, and lyrics that would be tongue-twisting in any language. The robotic opening of “Trois beaux canards” (“Three Lovely Ducks”) soaks of the most-performed songs in all of Quebeçois music in electronica that breathes new life into it. They do the same with another old canard (if you will), “Amusons-nous jeunesse.” It’s perfect for a club treatment, as it’s a call to have fun when you’re young because the bloom of youth will not last forever. My youthful ship has sailed, but I like it when artists find new ways to present songs I first heard decades ago.  

As of this writing, it’s hard to find videos for all of the material on Les Myriades, so I have attached the promo, which has snippets of how Mélisande rolls. Also,here’s a small bonus because who can resist a song titled “Le vin est bon?”And here they are rocking Australia.

If you want to see what I mean about the Capercaillie comparison, sample this. (It might be a tad unfair on my part. Capercaillie are Scottish superstars who have been at it for far longer. One of my favorite bands ever!)

Rob Weir

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