Jean Leclerc leans toward avant-garde chez nous
par Juan Rodriguez
dans The Gazette, 4 janvier 2006

Makes waves on Quebecois scene. Ambitious efforts cap off incredible year.

Was it a tempest in a teapot, a case of sour grapes, or did Jean "Dead Wolf" Leclerc (a.k.a. Leloup) have a point when he sniped at the parade of young bands and artists making their mark in 2006, by all accounts an incredible year for Quebec music?

Leclerc, who was virtually a lone wolf of creativity during the largely arid local pop scene of the 1990s, put a question mark among the exclamation points that greeted a year in which friendly competition by an energized "releve" resulted in one ambitious album after another.

The occasion was a "lunch with" interview last November with Marc Cassivi of La Presse, when the usually inconsequential atmosphere was disturbed by Leclerc's blunt assessments. Mainly, he claimed that albums by Malajube (Trompe l'oeil), Karkwa (Les tremblements s'immobilisent) and Pierre Lapointe (Le foret des mal-aimes) had little to say. We're not living in a golden-age of music, he added, but rather a "cocoon."

"They do stylistic exercises but they don't say much. I'm not part of this generation anymore than I was of the generation of (Serge) Fiori (of Harmonium). Here (in Quebec), there has never been any real questioning."

That raised the hackles of Nathalie Petrowski, the La Presse columnist who started out as a music critic for Le Devoir in the 1970s, generally regarded as the last golden age before this one. Why blame the young here for not having the "troubled" childhood Leclerc experienced in Algeria, she pleaded, or for not being preoccupied by thoughts of death like "Dead Wolf"?

Leclerc responded with a letter to Le Journal de Montreal, complaining that his comments were overly magnified, that he wasn't the pope, that he was no expert, that it wasn't important what he thought of the young acts. But, he added for good measure: "I'm listening to a lot of old reggae, above all by Lee 'Scratch' Perry. You should know that Lee Perry destroys all of us ... also including my own songs."

Like a boxer stirring up pre-fight publicity, the 45-year-old veteran might have chortled that the chicane would put the spotlight squarely on his own contribution to the parade of albums (the superb Mexico, the first under his real surname). But coming on the heels of criticism by Robert Charlebois, the founder of Quebec rock in the late 60s, that lyric-writing is often "botched" by young artists, it's an issue worth exploring.

Was this a great year for local records? Absolutely. But is the local scene a government-funded playground - rife with galas and contests - where there seems little at stake except the desire for radio airplay? That, too. In this regard, Leclerc is a loose cannon in a field insulated by a lack of danger, a certain safety - albeit hip and branche - that retains possibilities for movie soundtracks, "le pub" (dirty lucre) and media tie-ins for locals.

Similarly Arthur H decries the French scene for not being adventurous enough, saying life is too comfortable in France for too many, that they should live in America, where the frontier is still wild and dangerous. (Then again, perhaps Arthur has a romanticized view of America.)

"If you've got a message, send it Western Union," went the old Hollywood saw. Social protest rarely carries a commercial aroma in pop, because basically pop has smelled like teen spirit since Day One. Exceptions can be glorious: the summer of 1965 - the galvanizing effect of Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone coupled with (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by the Stones - and in 1985's anti-apartheid hit Sun City led by Little Steven.

You can count on Les Cowboys Fringants for songs about real people and real street life. But the band that opened the floodgates for the mainstreaming of alt-rock in Quebec - who won't release a follow-up to 2004's La Grand-Messe until next year - is often rapped as resembling first-year CEGEP students who've just discovered the world isn't all it should be. While Karkwa can sound as earnestly angst-filled (and sophomoric) as, say, Radiohead, their album did cleverly connect personal alienation with societal indifference. And then there was La fin du monde, last year's haunting premonition of doom by veteran storyteller Michel Faubert, wrapped in an ultra-modern soundscape created by Jerome Miniere.

Leclerc signed his Journal letter "Groove et attitude," offering a hint of where he's coming from. You'd be hard-pressed to find a recent album with more hypnotic guitar riffs than those dominating Mexico, an unrelenting by-play between tension and elasticity underlining his noir pensees.

All told it was a year in which francophone bands stepped up to the plate, as if to prove that 2005's hype on the Montreal Scene (by Spin and the New York Times) was not restricted to its anglo acts (Arcade Fire et al).

And so we got delicious exercises in style, such as Call Me Poupee (in the twangy Morricone-inspired Western Romance) and Malajube (who proved, if nothing else, that there's no such thing as overdoing overdubbing).

Lapointe set the standard early in the year with his ingenious avant-garde pop blend that put up sales figures more commonly associated with middle-of-the-road singers. His album also yielded the anthemic Deux Par Deux Rassembles, vague social awareness dressed up in disco (which may be the oxymoron to which Leclerc refers).

As the year sped by, each week seemingly exploding with yet another ambitious effort, we were left with a ton of variety and some profundity (by Leclerc, Faubert and, above all in my view, WD-40's redemptive humanism in the country-rocking Saint-Panache).

The issues behind the explosion of music - revolving around pop as both commodity and escape from colonization - provided an interesting and entertaining alternative to the anglo-American hegemony. Encore, s'il vous plait!
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Dernière mise à jour le 4 février 2007.
Conception: SD