Written by Jean-Étienne Sheehy
With releases from the likes of Bleu Nuit, Loud and Corridor, 2019 reflected many shades of what made the past decade in music so special.
Notable francophone headliners from 2009 — including Karkwa, Malajube and Radio Radio — have spun off into solo projects and influenced the music of 2019’s newcomers: Malajube’s Julien Mineau produced the debut album of Montreal post-punk band Bleu Nuit, and Quebec City singer-songwriter Lou-Adriane Cassidy mentions Karkwa’s Louis-Jean Cormier as a big influence on her work. Even artists who are currently hitting their creative peaks have ties to the last 10 years: Montreal band Corridor started making waves with an EP released in 2013, and MC Loud’s origins can be traced back to underground Bandcamp releases from 2012 and 2013, with his band Loud Lary Ajust.
From Sub Pop debuts to sold-out concerts at the Bell Centre and Polaris Prize nods to ambitious double LPs, the Canadian French music community’s classe de 2019 is as creatively bold as it is artistically and commercially successful.
Below, CBC Music has ranked the best francophone albums of 2019.
Editor’s note: All albums were chosen from Canadian releases between Jan. 1 and Nov. 22, 2019.
10. Self-titled, Bon Enfant (Nov. 1)
Listening to Bon Enfant’s retro-pop debut is the perfect act of self-love in 2019, as the Montreal two-piece gives us a highly danceable soundtrack to the album’s impending apocalypse. Bon Enfant is made up of two artists who left their mark throughout the 2010s — singer Daphnée Brissette of bluegrass kitchenparty act Canailles and Guillaume Chiasson of psychedelic rock two-piece Ponctuation — but the real draw of this project is its output, not its pedigree. Bon Enfant offers a timeless collection of groovy pop tunes that serves as a reminder that it’s OK to have fun — even as the world burns down around you.
9. Le jardin des mémoires, Bleu Nuit (April 12)
Throughout the last decade, Montreal developed an impressive art-rock scene that successfully broke down the boundaries of francophone music by presenting Anglo influences in a French context. (Corridor and Chocolat, here’s looking at you.) In 2019, Bleu Nuit joined this select group after releasing its debut album, Le jardin des mémoires. While the band borrowed its name from the late-night erotica show on the now defunct Quebec channel TQS, it doesn’t deliver an homage to its namesake. Instead, Bleu Nuit released a cool post-punk record without leaning too heavily on the nostalgia of their late ’70s English influences. Le jardin des mémoires is dense while also leaning on strong pop sensibilities — and, as a bonus, Stereolab’s Julien Gasc appears on “La sauvagerie,“ giving Bleu Nuit all the mystique it deserves.
8. C’est la fin du monde à tous les jours, Lou-Adriane Cassidy (Feb. 8)
Lou-Adriane Cassidy’s C’est la fin du monde a tous les jours soundtracks the small ways in which one’s world ends every day — or how kids continue to play in backyards after “the end of the world every day” — as she sings on the title track. On her debut album, Cassidy unveils herself as a strong melodist, gifted vocalist and talented songwriter. In juxtaposition to her work as a backup singer in Hubert Lenoir’s solo project, Cassidy lets a string section heal the heartbreak on “Poussière,” and soothe the “dead birds of the Saint-Laurent” on “Il Pleut.” When Cassidy takes cues from the chanson québécoise tradition on “Ça va ça va,” she reaches the album’s most beautiful peak by unveiling herself through her intimate folk songwriting. The best part of these 10 songs is that, since this is Cassidy’s first album, the best is likely still to come.
7. Tout ça pour ça, Loud (May 24)
How do you follow up an album that was one of the biggest success stories in the history of rap queb? After the critical and mainstream acclaim of 2017’s Une année record (the single “Toutes les femmes savent danser” got more than 12 million streams on Spotify), Loud wore his ambition on the sleeves of his Hochelag’ tuxedo for his second album, released just two years later. With Tout ça pour ça, Loud didn’t reinvent the formula for his franglais hip pop, but instead built on his previous successes to continue making history like it’s no big deal (“On fait l’histoire sans faire d’histoire,” he sings on “Sans faire d’histoire,” which roughly translates to “We’re making history like it’s no big deal”). He also knows how to feel humble in light of his days as part of Loud Lary Ajust on “Off the Grid”, where Loud reminds us that “I made it, but success is overrated, ain’t it?”
Not only is this a great pop album, but on the track “Fallait y aller,” the rapper demonstrates how he cemented his hit-making recipe: a catchy guitar riff (courtesy of producers Banx & Ranx), English expressions translated to French and a sing-along chorus. Loud should be satisfied with the album’s reception: Tout ça pour ça was launched over two sold-out nights at Montreal’s Bell Centre.
6. Microdose, Fred Fortin (Aug. 23)
Fred Fortin might just be one of Quebec’s best-kept secrets — from the rest of Canada, at least. Six albums and countless projects later — including writing folk-rock psychedelia and country songs, and playing in stoner group power trio Gros Mené — Fortin never signals that he’s running out of breath. His sixth album may also be his lightest to date, as he pokes fun at slacker rockers and their love of Am7 chords on “San Francisco,” talks about the social acceptability of pick-up trucks on “Redneck” and pounds non-alcoholic beer on “Led Zeppline.” Landing somewhere between the Sadies, Stompin’ Tom and Chad VanGaalen, Fred Fortin’s Microdose is a testimony to his consistency.
5. Notre-Dame de la vie intérieure, Crabe (May 3)
A veteran of Quebec’s art-rock scene, Crabe has never been a band that follows the rules. Founding member Martin Höek has been experimenting with Crabe’s output for the last decade, alongside drummer Gabriel Lapierre, who joined the band in the latter half of the 2010s. The duo exists outside of traditional francophone references, instead using inventive time signatures, impulsive guitar riffs and colourful moods to remind us that it’s fun to get weird. At the same time, Notre-Dame de la vie intérieure remains a conceptual and calculated effort. The best way to enjoy Crabe is to let the two-piece take you on this ride, as the payoff includes some of the most well-executed math-rock the country has to offer.
4. Le mal, FET.NAT (Feb. 25)
Hull’s FET.NAT plays with languages, time signatures and genres to craft its own weird performance exhibit. With this in mind, Le mal isn’t a record, it’s a statement delivered by one of the strongest musical forces in the country. FET.NAT solidifies its own codes, with its free-jazz musicianship, punk attitude and avant-gardist/absurd lyrics. Le mal ends up being more than the sum of its parts, without any artistic compromises. Other people bought into the fun on Le mal as FET.NAT made it all the way to the Polaris Prize’s shortlist. Pas bad.
3. Première apparition, Laurence-Anne (Feb. 8)
Laurence-Anne released the most intriguing debut album this year out of the crop of francophone newcomers. Première apparition is a balance of power pop and grey, dense atmospheres; she crafts her own definition of a hit single by using electro-pop and a hypnotic, pandemic chorus on “C’est un virus,” while simultaneously owning her grunge influences on “Instant zéro.” The rest of Première apparition takes us inside Laurence-Anne’s singular universe, shaped by her abstract lyrics and punk attitude. As a result, the album is as refreshing as it is potent.
2. Jazz engagé, Chocolat (Nov. 1)
Jazz engagé roughly translates to “jazz with a message,” and in the context of Chocolat, the medium truly is the message — and this time, the medium is a rock record. Chocolat’s fourth album isn’t a protest record, as the title might suggest, but a masterclass in rock music and all of its subgenres. Detractors could argue that Jazz engagé seems to be, at least on paper, a stylistic exercise closer to a mixtape than a cohesive album, but few bands can play at this level of musicianship. With tracks co-produced by a who’s-who of Quebec indie rock (Warren C. Spicer of Plants and Animals, Julien Mineau of Malajube and Peter Woodford of Freelove Fenner, among others), Jazz engagé is as sexy as it is ambitious, melding disco, punk, heavy metal, soul and garage rock for an album that is, ultimately, incredibly fun.
1. Junior, Corridor (Oct. 18)
Corridor’s Jonathan Robert kicked off 2019 with Histoire naturelle, a strong debut solo album that paved the way to an impressive year for the Montreal band. In July, Corridor became the first francophone group to sign to Seattle indie label Sub Pop Records (and Bonsound in Canada), releasing a critically acclaimed album just three months later. It would be unfair to limit Corridor to this notable record deal, though, as Junior, the band’s third album, is the culmination of an impressive 10-year progression, from local scene phenomenon to doing regular tours in the States — en français.
A testament to the great musicianship of Robert (guitars, vocals), Dominic Berthiaume (vocals, bass), Julian Perreault (guitar) and Julien Bakvis (drums), Junior combines the bandmates’ pop sensibilities, creative guitar-riffing and rock urgency. Musically, Junior is a rock tour-de-force, solidified by the band’s unique sound, where riffs shine and vocal harmonies float. Junior is a hypnotic collection of songs that will redefine the boundaries of francophone music for the next decade, and inspire a new generation of musicians to come.