The Best Albums of 2018, #7

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7. Hubert Lenoir, Darlène (Simone)

One of the weirdest things about Canada is how the province of Quebec has its own popular culture, different from any other francophone nation, and wildly different from English Canada. It’s a kooky little culture bubble that exists in its own insular universe, and only on the rarest of occasions does a French music artist from Quebec achieve success across Canada. The language barrier, of course, is the biggest hurdle, but when you see an artist like Coeur de Pirate sell out venues in a very Anglophone city like Saskatoon, it’s proof that great music can easily transcend language. Thanks to the Polaris Prize, more attention has been given to French artists – although some still think not enough attention is being given, but you can’t please everyone – and it was my exposure to the crazy word of mouth among fellow jurors that I learned about the most extraordinary Québécois album I have heard in a long time. I hadn’t heard of Lenoir before, let alone his band The Seasons, but once I gave a curious listen to his debut solo album I was over the moon. At the age of 24 he has constructed a saucy little concept album (inspired heavily by Prince and Serge Gainsbourg) that bridges glam rock, chanson, jazz, and psychedelic rock with such sophistication that it’s shocking. This boy’s a genius. The fluidity of the music, how it weaves gracefully from genre to genre, is greatly similar to Lenoir’s own persona, who loves to play around with the idea of the fluidity of gender. There’s an androgyny to Lenoir that is enticing: whether strutting onstage like an alpha male or preening fabulously, you don’t know where this kid is going with it all, but you’re struck by how comfortable Lenoir is being just himself. And that confidence is reflected in the vibrant Darlène. One minute he’s evoking early-‘70s Bowie (like on the opening three-part suite “Fille de personne”), the next he’s sounding like ‘60s Donovan on “Recommencer”. You hear Serge Gainsbourg, the Flaming Lips, Motown, and free jazz during this 36-minute excursion, and it always feels seamless. Everything fits. From a strictly musical perspective, this is one of the most life-affirming records I heard in 2018. As for the lyrics, well, that’s what Google Translate is for.