Published Feb 07, 2020Vintage is hip, there's no denying it. Across the musical spectrum this past year, we've seen artists like alt-country crooner Orville Peck, country supergroup the Highwomen, and Grammy-nominated soul-folk belter Yola grow with exposed roots of musical eras gone by. However, embracing the past while infusing the present is a tall order. On Montreal pop-folk songwriter Maude Audet's third record, the connection to the past feels more like an uprooting than an extension of a musical tradition.
Having released a couple albums of straight-ahead pop-rock, Audet set Tu ne mourras pas in a particular landscape: '60s/'70s folk-rock à la the Carpenters or Mamas and the Papas, chamber arrangements straight out of an old film score and production as clean, bright and full as a winter sun. The result of selecting such a clear sound is twofold. Yes, the record is lush and coherent, and has impeccable sonic moments, such as the playful mandolin/whistle glissando on "Laura." Another example: the epic ballad "Nos bras lâches" (the highlight of the album), which is replete with cinematic strings, organ swells — even booming timpani flourishes. However, the arrangements also become a crutch for some pretty pedestrian songwriting, as evidenced on "Couteau de poche." This straightforward radio-pop piece, which includes a few uninspired harmonies from Montreal mainstay Phillipe B, has to be saved by some playful flute and piano interplay in the chorus.
The central themes of this album — lost love, nostalgia, regrets — keep the majority of its songs rather generic. The introspective, sentimental tone of the album could be summed up by these lines in the chorus: "Nos bras laches, nos yeux cernés / Se sont vus regretter ce qu'ils ont délaissé" (Our loose arms, our dark eyes / Have been regretting what they left behind). Maudet infuses some touching poetry into these personal pieces, but they feel over-reliant on addressing these familiar topics from this familiar angle.
Some songs, like "Juste un peu de temps," do inject some interest into the album, sounding like if Umbrellas of Cherbourg was recreated with a couple synthesizers and a 21st century sensibility. However, the homage mostly runs its course at a glacial pace on the second half of the record, especially on "Les gelés de novembre"—an ode to winter frosts.
Tu ne mourras pas is certainly a pleasant album, but its dedication to a nostalgic sound for nostalgia's sake is both its biggest strength and its Achilles' heel. The biggest take-away from Audet's third album is that dynamic arrangements can be powerful, but they can only go so far. (Grosse Boîte)