During the first half of the 2000s, Quebec indie rockers Gwenwed gained media attention with their sophisticated pop melodies. After the band unofficially broke up, the real surprise came from the first solo record of the collective's vocalist, Philippe B. This album served as the evidence that he was a gifted francophone songwriter. Six years later these songs are like a rough drawing of his musical ambitions. Philippe B sampled Debussy and Joni Mitchell, wrote smart and familiar lyrics and thanked Elliott Smith, Daniel Lanois and Beaudelaire in the liner notes of his untitled album. That record remains one of the rare albums where my headphones and the album's booklet are necessary to complete the experience.
On "Variations Fantômes", his latest album, Philippe B is influenced by the works of Ravel, Strauss, Schubert, Vivaldi and their philosophical deepness. It would be easy to talk about the aspirations behind "Variations Fantômes". I prefer the excellent songs behind the album as Philippe B is an extraordinary songwriter, not a concept designer. The great thing about this collection is that these songs were built following the rules of minimalist folk music: a couple of chords played on an acoustic guitar, lonely sounds to fill the ambiance and strong melancholic melodies to support the sadness of this album. When the listener holds the booklet, "Variations Fantômes" unveils itself and the lyrics confirm the shades of an outsider gray.
The strongest song remains "Nocturne nº 632", in which Philippe B compares a relationship to an unnamed animal that his lover killed in order to transform the beast's fur in a coat. The imagery of this record is both unique and striking, somewhere between its metaphoric and geographical references.
The classical music serves as a blueprint behind the music but "Variations Fantômes" is enjoyable for other reasons than these explorations. I could analyze each word and go back to each sample. It is not worth it. "Variations Fantômes" is simply the best francophone album released in 2011.
Official website: http://www.philippeb.ca