Myriam Gendron's 'Mayday' Speaks to the Future and the Past

BY Vish KhannaPublished May 9, 2024


Every mother is a child, and within that dynamic lies a compelling tension, which Myriam Gendron explores on her brilliant and bilingual third album, Mayday. Grappling with the existential crisis that is losing a parent while fending off the devastation to keep being one herself, Gendron notably doesn't go it alone.

Mayday oscillates between the gifted guitarist's solo expression and a compulsion to collaborate more: she is sporadically joined by free and improvisational players like guitarist Marisa Anderson, drummer Jim White, double-bassist Cédric Dind-Lavoie, electric guitarist/loop manipulator Bill Nace and tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba.

Gendron sings songs in English and French, and though grief and discontent inform an exhausted narrative voice at times, there are equal measures of strength and resolve within the vocals, a stirring rumble of sound that could propel anyone out of their stupor (indeed, Amba gets the last word on the album, blasting us awake to conclude the lullaby, "Berceuse").  

Gendron's daughter was born in one May, and her mother died in another. The term "mayday" is derived from the French term for "Help me," "M'aider," and so the album's title and conceptual framework speaks to more than a few binary relationships. "There Is No East or West," the album's opening  solo instrumental insists, but the record itself speaks of multitudes, the freedom that options promise and a lifetime of travel.

On "Long Way Home," Gendron sings, "It's been a long way home / And I'm afraid the fire's gone / I just wanna be alone / It's been a long way home." But she's not alone here; Anderson, White and Dind-Lavoie are in tow, in a band show of support. On the eerie "Terres brûlées," they're all joined by Nace, and they inform a song full of ash, flowers, emotional collapse and scorched Earth with an off-kilter stability fit for the dystopian mood.

Gendron interprets "La belle Françoise (pour Sylvie)," a song learned via Quebec storyteller and singer Michel Faubert, and dedicates it to her late mom. It speaks of a dying mother who comforts her grieving daughter, and the imagery is beautiful and heartbreaking, but also inspiring. When a child mourns their parents, they call upon an inner strength to do so, but that strength was placed there by their parents in the first place — in their blood, bones and brains.

In a sense, Mayday is about the foundational elements we work with whenever we must rebuild our ruined selves. Its songs are weary and uncompromising, often delving into what we choose to keep and jettison after it's been transmitted to us by our family lines or by partnerships that fail. Between its instrumental interplay and Gendron's singing and structural vision, it's a deep and gorgeous classic that moves her into the pantheon of our greatest living songwriters. 

(Thrill Jockey)

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