Boomkat Product Review:
Another notable rediscovery from the esteemed ears at Freedom to Spend, Danielle Boutet's self-released 1985 debut is an illusory Quebecois delight, somewhere between crepuscular cabaret, eerie minimal electronix and wonked, poetic chanson. Not much else out there quite like it, but if you're into Stereolab, early 4AD, Serge Gainsbourg, Stroomy et-al, you're gonna need it.
Now a professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski, Boutet spent her youth in Montréal where she studied music and immersed herself in the peppery local feminist art scene. Collaborating with Sylvie Gagnon, she used nascent home recording gear - a Tascam Portastudio, Yamaha DX-7, marimba, guitars and vocals - to offer a Francophone response to British prog and peripheral new wave, enveloping her voice in slippery pads and kinetic yet sparse instrumentation.
'Pièces' - meaning "rooms" in French - was her first album, and she'd release just one other before giving it up to pursue an academic path. Naturally, it barely sold any copies, but somehow picked up steam after it was mis-categorised as new age in a women-forward mail order catalog. In truth, the record slips off any straightforward trajectory, swerving between oddball pop, soundtrack music and DIY experimentation. So while album opener 'Spirale' is a syrupy, wordless experiment that'd be right at home on Finders Keepers, 'Images' veers in a different direction entirely, splicing Boutet's half-sung, half-spoken words with echoing guitars, knotted marimba and pulsing bass.
Boutet was inspired by British poet and new wave innovator Anne Clark, whose stunning debut 'The Sitting Room' can be heard as an influence if you listen carefully. But where Clark leaned into the burgeoning synthwave and punk sounds that were dominating London at the time, Boutet sipped from a different wellspring, referencing electrified prog and kosmische, French pop and smoked-out jazz, eschewing drums altogether. On the grandiose 'P. 216', she speaks passionately but soberly over a fanfare of synths and muted marimba that come off somewhere between Jean-Michel Jarre and Steve Reich. The glassy DX-7 squeals are familiar of course - particularly for anyone who lapped up BBC sci-fi shows in the 1980s - but Boutet drives the sounds firmly off the beaten track, all tape saturated and unashamedly DIY, realising a creative vision that still sounds unique almost four decades later.
As the album slithers slowly into its second half, Boutet and Gagnon's songs take on a more isolated mood. 'Le Tournant Des Temps' is a gentle folk number anchored by echoing coos, and 'Hivers 2 - Sol-Six D'Hiver' is a careful, phantasmagoric reverie that sounds as if it's playing at the edge of the universe. 'Documentaire Sur Les Falaises' is even more weightless, made up of uncanny, minor-key waves and thawing low warbles, and closing track '14e Siécle' is a gauzy, art pop inversion that swirls Boutet's voice into a persistent chant.
From beginning to end, 'Pièces' is an intriguing set of intimate, peculiar experiments that sound as if they've been cleaved from a painterly, long-lost film following the story of Montréal's vivid queer underground. For lovers of pop music from the margins, consider it essential listening.