Vanille Is Your Guide to Another World on the Lovely 'La clairière'

BY Stephan BoissonneaultPublished Feb 2, 2023

From the very first moment of Vanille's sophomore LP, La clairière, you're immediately transported to a mystical and dreamlike forest. It's a place conjured by Rachel Leblanc out of necessity, a fleeting world of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of buzzing city life. 

You see, like many of us, Leblanc was trapped inside her tiny Montreal apartment during the unrelenting waves of the pandemic, slowly becoming aware of all the noise; the zooming cars outside her windows, the creaks from adjacent neighbours, the ceaseless, suffocating air pollution. 

In order to cope, Leblanc created music — music that reflected her love of dreamy '60s baroque-folk pop ballads, songs about the changing seasons and the calming allure of nature. On La clairière, idyllic landscapes, cold blissful winds and river waters reign supreme.  

Leblanc produced the album herself alongside Alexandre Martel, who is partly responsible for ushering in a new era of Quebecois artists such as Hubert Lenoir, Thierry Larose and Lou-Adriane Cassidy. It was recorded during the first snow of November at Wild Studio, a luxurious cabin on the edge of a river that meets two beautiful lakes, and undoubtedly serves as the inspiration for fantastic closer "Quand la neige tombe," or "When the Snow Falls." 

For La clairière, Leblanc traded her electric guitar for an acoustic and relied on a cornucopia of instruments like autoharp, harpsichord, omnichord, flute ensembles, tenor saxophone, and the bass clarinet. She utilizes each of these instruments with precision, granting a medieval feel (that thankfully never tips into ren faire pastiche) to opener "Hop Hop"— which, along with her ode to trees on "Le Bois," most clearly illustrates her escape to the enchanted forest of her mind. 

The electric instruments aren't completely gone — light synth work appears on the outro of "Anna" — but instead of the psych-pop full band feel of 2021's Soleil '96, the focus here is more on her patient songcraft and sweet-as-honey vocal techniques. La clairière is meant to rest the heart rate, and most songs don't pass 70 bpm, with the classic drum setup traded for sleigh bells, chimes and tambourines. The major exception is "Mon petit chemin," which is probably the closest in spirit to her more fast-paced previous work. 

La clairière is a reminder of the world outside our windows and an opportunity for escape from the deafening noise of life. Take to the woods — Vanille will gladly guide you.

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