RANGE

blesse: Far From Normal

The Francophone indie pop group invites us into their jam space to give us a taste of their next gen DIY vibrations. 

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Gaëlle Leroyer

At first glance, the surrounding area of blesse’s fourth floor jam space seems to be in disorder; spray paint and sharpie tags all over the brown walls, a beat up papier-mâché head hanging sinisterly above, faux persian rugs with a few cigarette burns, an air conditioner that looks like it could fall out of the window at any moment, ripped up tour posters and setlists, and a palisade of dusty, broken windows. The feature wall though is a pastiche of 80s LP covers ranging from Olivia Newton John to Prince.

In the middle of the room is a makeshift jam setup; a Gibson bass guitar laying on the floor, a synth resting on a keyboard stand propped up by guitar case, a drum machine, a Qchord (a 90s sampler that drones digital guitar sounds), and three musicians (Léo Leblanc, Xavier Touikan, and Charles-Antoine Olivier (alias CAO). Together, they make up blesse, one of Montreal’s burgeoning Francophone indie-pop rock groups. 

(Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

As we crack open a few crisp Sapporos, blesse tells me the itinerary of the day. They are currently working on a live “acoustified,” set of their debut album, normal, to be played on a few radio shows before their album release show. “We’ve been here for hours, living off of dates and Cheerios,” CAO laughs.

The debut album may have one of the most ordinary titles, but that is just part of the illusion. It’s an album that is far from “normal,” primarily written on the computer with several digital audio workstations, multiple vague narrators, and features more than 150 instruments. Over the course of the album’s 13 tracks, the band hops genres, from psychedelic indie pop in the vein of Of Montreal to LCD Soundsystem inspired disco, to punk-tinged hyperpop.

(Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

“You could put it under the spirit or movement of indie pop in philosophy, but we wanted to try and make something like a playlist album,” says Touikan. “Everybody listens to playlists now and the main vocals also change with the genres, so we didn’t want to commit to one sound.”

You could go as far as calling normal more of a mixtape, something you throw on when you can’t decide what to listen to as you wander through a city getting lost in foreign neighbourhoods. Much of the music is bright and shimmering; emotional and cinematic stories with throbbing bass—a soundtrack for the current musical landscape.

“There’s a lot of anxiety within the texts from a first-person character who is talking with someone who is not there anymore, or even a part of himself is missing, trying to find the answers,” CAO says. “And the character changes depending on who is singing.”

While the songs on normal are based on the lives of blesse, the members aren’t about to share their life stories, only leaving crumbs through fuzzy vocals for the listener to try and keep up with the narrative. But diving a bit into their past, there is a common thread. 

They were all part of the disbanded group Zen Bamboo for a number of years, a passion project for the band’s frontman. And though they were nominated for a Polaris Music Prize, the members of blesse felt they were only reserved as musicians/session players in Zen Bamboo and never took part in the songwriting process, making it hard to flourish as creative artists. 

“After that band dissolved, we kind of started this project and began writing our own songs and styles and it was kind of freeing for us,” says Leblanc. “We had a new spark and it was super exciting.”

(Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

The live acoustic side of blesse is much more laid back than the abrasiveness of the album. Leblanc programs a drum machine—setting the tempo of each song—while laying down halcyon lead guitar, as CAO and Touikan strum the bass and acoustic guitar. Everyone sings, sometimes in harmony with one another, sometimes in musical monologue. Even acoustic, it does feel very much like a playlist or mixtape. 

Halfway through the live practice set, CAO disappears, but comes back, bubbling, with fantastic news. The album release show is sold out and another show has been added. 

The anxiety playlist format is working, and blesse seems ready to conquer Montreal, and maybe soon, the world.