There is something so unmistakably “Québec” about Le Cerf-Malade and their newest album De bonnes intentions. That might seem like a surface-level observation, the kind of bullshit labeling from critics that rendered The Tragically Hip “Canada’s band” even though they could have – and should have – found more success over the border. In this case, I mean it as a compliment. Le Cerf-Malade has tapped into the Québec consciousness, and it isn’t just because they speak French. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a resident of this province my whole life, but there is just something about this music that reminds me very much of home.
If you have any doubts, just look at the song titles. “Toronto” might just consist of the title repeated over and over, but those aggressive guitar strums suggest that this song is tearing the city a new one as much as it is celebrating it. As any Montrealer knows, such sentiments are 100% accurate. Then there’s “Février,” which is easily my favourite on the whole record. Winters obviously suck in Québec. Lines like, “Je crois qu’est tombée/ toute la neige, déjà” are eerie (although not THAT shocking) in how much they sums up this year’s cruel weather forecasts. Sure, singing about weather might seem trivial, but in this province, it can really fuck with a person. It literally affects everything we do.
Even if you’re not a frigid and frustrated hoser like yours truly, the guitar interplay between Louis Durocher and Pierre-Maxime Saulnier is enough reason to get excited about this album. The punchy and aggressive lead guitar is very much in the current alternative rock mould, but the jangly and kind of twitchy rhythm guitar is something straight out of Television’s Marquee Moon or Talking Heads More Songs About Food and Buildings. It’s the sonic equivalent of the nervous nice guy teaming up with the bad-ass loose canon. Both styles are seemingly different, but neither is particularly stylistically mainstream, so hey, it works!
The band must know that this is their not-so-secret weapon, as much of the album’s running time is dedicated to the dynamic duo. Singer Thomas Racine is responsible for their homegrown aesthetic, largely due to his strongly specific yet universal lyrics, but it’s these two guitarists that dominate. Racine wisely steps back to let them wield their magic on tracks like the groovy “SpaceJam” and the before mentioned “Toronto.” A more insecure lead singer would have fucked the whole thing up with a need to dominate the sonic space, but these guys know their dynamic and know it well.
The one thing they don’t do as well is editing. None of these songs are inherently bad, but dear lord! Some of them need to be trimmed down. Songs like “Infirmière” and “À l’ouest” wear out their welcome by at least a minute or two. The worst part is that they start off promisingly enough, but by the end completely lose my attention. For all its good intentions, De bonnes intentions falls slightly short of being truly great, which is okay. When you have a style so defined, and not only one but two virtuoso guitar players, then it’s only a matter a time before you create your masterpiece. Until then, this is more than suitable enough to get anyone through the rest of a very long winter.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson