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L'échec du matériel

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Album Review

It's perhaps fitting that a now greying Daniel Bélanger appears on the cover of his fourth proper studio album. L' Échec du Matériel — a double entendre signifying both the failure of materialism and a cheeky reference to the failure of the album's content itself — shows a more reserved Bélanger gracefully expanding his musical palette with sampling, sweeping arrangements and electronic instruments, but this time blending his experimental side seamlessly with his traditional Quebec folk side. On 2001's Rêver Mieux, Bélanger shocked the typically traditionalist Quebec folk scene by creating an electronic pop masterpiece, more on par with Air's 10,000 Hz Legend and Radiohead's Kid A than his older releases. His 2003 12-round boxing match concept album, the sample-heavy, hip-hop infused Déflaboxe, was considered so unusual upon its release it received the tag of "side project" as opposed to an actual Daniel Bélanger record. Perhaps there were no new stones with which to uncover such an adventurous record, but here the songwriter feels more at ease with both his old and new hats. Thankfully for both camps — those who adored his first two albums and those who enjoyed his dabbling in electronic music — L' Échec du Matériel marks a true return to his folk roots, although he still can't resist the urge to experiment. On "Amusements," multiple sports-related samples (such as ping-pong balls and basketballs) are used to create a mesmerizing Wall of Sound behind a singular piano performance. Every song has a rich arrangement and the production is pristine, but it is how the album subtly shifts from aggressive to subdued on numerous occasions that shows how Bélanger is becoming more adept at exploring new musical ideas within the confines of folk-rock music.

In another strange turn for the songwriter, this is also his most rocking album to date. Tracks like "Fermeture Définitive" and "Manière de Parler" roll along with fierce electric guitar riffs, and the latter comes with an orchestral arrangement that would hint that perhaps Bélanger has been listening to fellow Montrealers' Arcade Fire. He also employs more background vocals and harmonies than ever before, with many songs having semi-a cappella passages with minimal or no instrumentation. It's all meant to provide a more organic, albeit still very dense sound, since the album is his statement on the current world climate. The overall theme is well-explained in the first single "La Fin de l'Homme," where he contends the world will live long after humans have died out. It's his typical tongue-in-cheek humor with an apocalyptic tinge, although rarely has he dealt with such universal subjects. Bélanger has always been effective in absorbing current styles and adapting them to his own brand of Quebec folk, and in this case he has been drawn back to his acoustic guitar and piano, after delving into electronic music six years ago. He certainly hasn't lost his creative spirit — it's just that he sounds more comfortable then before.


Born: 1962 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: French Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Electro-folk singer/songwriter Daniel Bélanger emerged from obscurity in 1992 to become one of the most acclaimed and popular Québecois artists of his generation. Born in Montreal in 1962, Bélanger first attracted attention in 1983 with the group Humphrey Salade. Despite a fervent following on the local club scene, the band never recorded, and after its demise he mounted a solo career, competing in the Rock Envol de la SRC contest with limited success. Bélanger remained a fixture of the Montreal...
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L'échec du matériel, Daniel Bélanger
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