Sach O endorses ONE indie band a year. This is that band. Listen.
Before carpet bagging, indie-rocking Leafs fans that wouldn’t know a Smoked Meat sandwich from a proper bagel invaded Montreal*, my city already had a vibrant, self-sufficient music scene en francais. Content to move units among the Province’s 6 million Francophones, local musicians were certainly influenced by the outside world, but for the most part there was little dialogue between those aiming for the local market and those hoping to strike it big elsewhere. The last decade’s indie boom changed that to an extent, but there’s still a fairly evident divide between say, Sunset Rubdown and Malajube. The future is bright, however, and increasing cross-pollination between Montreal’s twin scenes is only furthering the cause of good music as acts like bedroom duo Eli et Papillon prove.
Splitting the difference between Franco-folk tradition and international indie pop appeal, singer Elise Larouche and instrumentalist Marc Papillon’s recorded output feels like a demo in name only. The recording’s a little rough, but in the honest way that bedroom pop is supposed to sound rather than the critic-baiting, artificially lo-fi approach currently rocking the blogs. Besides, robust production would be superfluous — with their strong songs, charismatic and gifted lead singer and attention to arrangement, Eli & Papillon’s music doesn’t need to hide behind production parlor tricks, it speaks for itself. Recalling a young Belle & Sebastian (a loaded comparison I admit) with Scottish irony replaced by Gallic Romance, the group’s lyrical concerns fall squarely upon longing, love and loss. Such earnestness could be a fatal flaw but singer Elise’s vocals propel the songs past any clichés, pulling heartstrings with uncommon clarity. With all due respect to punk’s idea that anyone can sing, it’s nice to hear a contemporary indie record by someone who can actually sing.
Songs like “Coffre Fort” highlight this with delicate multi-tracking and an understated combination of strings, piano keys, acoustic guitars and a haunting violin solo. Everything is remarkably up front, revealing a confidence in their songwriting and an admirable restraint in the face of potential schmaltziness. “Train de Vie” is raw and folky featuring provincial acoustic guitar, words and little else again highlighting the strength of the song. It’s tracks like “Une chanson pour tout dire” that surprise the most however, taking the duo out of their comfort zone and into even more delicate territory recalling classic chamber-pop in the Bacharach tradition, had Bacharach recorded in Paris.
I’ve passed this demo around to a couple of people and it’s never failed to surprise, probably because it scratches musical itches that don’t get much attention these days. There’s no shortage of quality music out there, but with pop gone meta and indie alternating between nostalgic adolescence and haughty intellectualism, it’s nice to hear a project that puts an emphasis on strong songs and quality arrangements, qualities that’ll never go out of style. The formula may not remain complicated but it’s a joy to find a group that still believes in the unironic love song without falling victim to cloying tweeisms.
I’ve provided a few MP3s here but Eli et Papillon are giving out the full demo out to anyone who wants it, just send them a request via Myspace or leave a comment here and someone will get back to you with a link.
*If you understand any of this, mazel tov mon ami.