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Meta Gruau's "Tendre et mauve" Album Review, Launch @ l'esco, This Friday

Posted by Andrés / April 21, 2010

High-energy synthesized pop sludge rock is in vogue. Montréal's Meta Gruau makes a worthy addition to this highly particular local scene with their first full-length album "Tendre et mauve". While the three-artist band has been performing since c. 2006 and has previously released EPs, their LP launch this Friday at L'Escogriffe (4467 St. Denis, corner Mont-Royal) is a must-stop for the uninitiated.

Taking a page from the late 70s/early 80s punk synth pop band, Devo, the Montréal music scene has been very kind to bands like Duchess Says, We Are Wolves, Pedo Pedro, ManyMental Mistakes (more shoe-gaze, I admit), Lesbo Vrouven and, of course, Meta Gruau. While the very discordant nature of the style means mainstream breakthrough is rare to impossible, these bands have attracted a loyal following due to the strikingly pulsating live acts they conjure up from percussion and distorted keyboard.

"Tendre et mauve" features 12 tracks, most of which rely on a heavy bass beat, coupled with synth pop riffs and vocals that are eerily distorted to give Gruau their unique sound. Opening track "Banana" ramps it up with some of those signature tones that repeat in subsequent tracks: this includes digitized melodies with hints of French baroque, though heavily saturated with today's electronic sounds. Tracks like "Corvette" and "Nenu-phare" rely on the continual moan, drone and mumble of the electronic and muffled lyrics - which is all fine and dandy, considering both tracks consist of two lines repeated. The inability to decipher the lyrics only comes as a detriment in "Ma job" which, after reading the CD booklet, I discovered had some humourous lines about spending hours on the toilet when unemployed.

Band members Julien Bakvis (drums and vocals), Melissa Di Menna (keyboards, vocals) and Julien Michalak (guitar, synth, vocals) drummed up some support from the local music pool. Both Philippe Clément of Duchess Says and Thomas Augustin of Malajube helped collaborate to bring together this album. In a way, "Tendre et mauve" is a stepping stone between these two collaborators. The mainstream success of Malajube may allow some extra attention to be paid to the like-sounding (more palpatably mainstream) Meta Gruau tracks such as "Tibia sauvignon". In turn, this helps habituate listeners to the "synth sludge" sound, more heavily employed by Duchess Says. Not to reduce Meta Gruau to meer stepping stone: they are themselves more than capable of captivating the most avid fan of the sound.

Another introductory track for beginners may be "Racine plastique" which debuts a heavy repetitive bass beat similar to what is often (always?) employed by The White Stripes.

Lastly, there are the album oddities: "Intermezzo" is a palate cleanser - a short track dropping in after five high energy tracks. It also hearkens back to the roots of Meta Gruau, which was more about computerized compositions at its inception. This one sounds like it was ripped straight from some lost area of an 8-bit Final Fantasy video game. There is then "Tendre et mauve", taking a page from the electro-synth compositions of Walter/Wendy Carlos (namely "The Funeral of Queen Mary" featured in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange). Images of the Alex's droogs flittered through my head when hearing this one. Yarbles.

The summary of this twelve-track listening experience is one that shows accomplished synth experimentation with sludge rock affinities. The mix is somewhat jarring, from loud distorted vocals on one track to baroque-esque synth instrumentals on the next. While the latter certainly speak to the band being both tender and mallow ("tendre et mauve"), they are obviously anything but: and I think I prefer them as the inverse.

The kind of music Meta Gruau plays is best experienced live, so catching a live performance is a good start. To those who have yet to experience any of the above-mentioned bands (pre-review) or Gruau themselves, I highly recommend you take advantage of their album launch at l'esco on Friday as a fine introduction. To 'synth sludge' veterans: you hardly need convincing. The show starts at 9pm Friday April 23rd, $5 at the door, with copies of their nicely designed CD available for purchase. You should also pay a visit to their Myspace or Facebook pages.

Many thanks to Meta Gruau for the advance copy.



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