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Malajube - Trompe L'Oeil

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Artist: Malajube

Album: Trompe L'Oeil

Label: Dare to Care

Review date: Feb. 23, 2007

If there's one thing Montreal's Malajube shares with many of the leading Canadian indie groups - The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and so on - it's a sort of guileless ambition that belies their indie rock origins. In Malajube's case, this is a tough-edged kind of grandness that has more to do with glam than anything else. They also set themselves apart from other big Canadian indie acts in that their breathy vocals are sung entirely in French.

Whether or not you understand anything they're saying, Trompe L'Oeil is impressive in both its scope and its execution. Malajube isn't easily pigeonholed, and the best tracks here make abrupt changes of mood seem utterly logical. Take, for example, the excellent "La Monogamie," the delicate acoustic guitar intro of which gives way to a verse with the sort of squiggly, sliding guitars you might expect to hear on a Modest Mouse or Flaming Lips record. The chorus, in contrast, is snappy and brittle, miles from shambling indie rock, and the end of the song feels like the climactic last track on a classic rock record.

"La Monogamie" is among the more fully-realized tracks on Trompe L'Oeil, however. "Étienne d'Août," for example, features the same (very beautiful) chord progression repeated throughout almost the entire song. The opening "Jus de Canneberges" is really just a fragment. "La Russe" is a goofy, synth-based rap that has little to do with the rest of the album.

I usually hate reading critiques like the one in the preceding paragraph because they're boring, and because they tell me that the writer is more interested in a record or song being consistent than in it being fresh or startling or distinctive. But Malajube's music is so showy, ambitious and dramatic that complaints about consistency do seem appropriate. Trompe L'Oeil isn't classic rock, but it feels like the best classic rock, so you'll want to judge it with the values of classic rock - it should flow as an album.

Along similar lines, the album sounds like a pretty good home recording. It's functional and you can hear everything clearly, but music like this should leap out of the speakers and shake the listener by the shoulders. Anything less seems like an unnecessary damper on the listener's imagination.

Luckily, the attention Malajube have already received for Trompe L'Oeil suggests that they'll at least be able to afford more lavish production on their next album. If they can also iron out some of the kinks in their songwriting, that record could be spectacular. But in the meantime, Trompe L'Oeil is still awfully good.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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