Another New Year! Another personal commitment to find something new in the world of Canadian music this year to further broaden our listening pleasures. So welcome to my first “Find A New Favorite” of 2019, with which I’d like to introduce Québec singer-songwriter Marie Mai Bouchard. Okay, so Marie Mai is not exactly a newcomer to the music scene, but having spent time out of the spotlight for the last few years, she returned in late 2018 with a brand new album, and announced a very extensive tour schedule for 2019.
My initial encounter with Marie Mai’s music dates back to 2007, when satellite radio brought French-Canadian stations into the US, and with them, an influx of some outstanding music. As a non-French speaking Brit recently uprooted from his native land and transplanted in central PA, the likelihood of discovering and embracing Québecois music was incredibly remote, to say the least. Yet, thanks to former SiriusXM channel “Air Musique,” this endless stream of music from artists I’d never heard of was a great introduction to popular culture from Québec. And hey, nothing beats knowing that it is pretty likely the person in the car behind me has no idea that I’m head-bobbing along to the likes of Jean LeLoup or Anik Jean. Points for style, right?
We recently reviewed Marie Mai’s lead single from her “Elle et Moi” album; a good place to start for anybody unfamiliar with this artist, and immediate introduction to her current sound. However, with five previous full-length albums under her belt, there is no shortage of music to discover here. From her earlier synth-pop roots, and progression to her signature alt-rock sound, Marie Mai has never been afraid to experiment. It would be her 2007 sophomore “Dangereuse Attraction” album that introduced me to her music, with both the title track and “Ici Maintenant” played regularly across the airwaves (and two tracks that leaned more towards her synth-pop sound, following nicely from her 2004 “Inoxydable” debut that I would encounter shortly afterwards).
With her incredible vocal range and delivery, the transition to a heavier rock sound seems like was a natural progression for this artist. The sophomore release, after-all, saw some early flirtation with the genre; from the up-tempo and guitar heavy opening track “Mentir,” to the slower, yet equally potent “Cauchemar.” And so by the time that Marie Mai released “Version 3.0” in 2009, she had firmly cemented herself within the alt-rock genre. Or had she? “C’est Moi,” the first release from the album, was a little more industrial in sound, toning down her edginess with some retro-sounding synth vibes. Not convinced? I encourage you to crank up the volume and immerse yourself into both “Garde Tes Larmes” and “Deja Loin,” and see if you too are completely unprepared for this perfect blend of her synth and rock roots.
I am a huge fan of Marie Mai’s music, I must confess. She was the first French language artist that actively encouraged me to pay attention to the Québecois scene. “Dangereuse Attraction” was one of my first French language album purchases. In fact, all six of her albums and both DVD releases reside here in our central PA home. The only bucket list item remaining right now is to see her perform live – and I’m optimistic that with her return to the spotlight, this has become an achievable goal. But what is it that appeals the most to me about her music? This is a simple question to address. I will always be partial to the power ballad that allows an artist (especially one blessed with a voice like Marie Mai) to slow things down for a short space of time, and deliver a song of epic proportions. And if you look beyond the bouncy synth-pop, or stadium ready alt-rock, Marie Mai always has an ace tucked away in her sleeve. No matter which album you are listening too, she will slow the tempo at some point, and literally take your breath away with an absolute powerhouse of a composition.
I am also of the opinion that these slower numbers go from strength to strength as you progress through the albums in chronological order. Go ahead and commence with “Un million d’années” from her 2004 debut, before moving to “Mille Jours” from her 2007 release, and “Comme avant” from “Version 3.0.” Surely I am not alone here with my firm belief that Marie Mai raises her game each and every time when playing them in this sequence? Looking for more proof? Proceed to “Jamais ailleurs” from her 2012 “Miroir” album, “On Change” from the 2014 “M” release, and to her brand new music from late 2018, where “La Fin” once again reaffirms Marie Mai’s status as one of Québec’s finest, with all the ingredients to ensure radio success.
There is one song that I feel truly elevated Marie Mai to that status of being one of Québec’s finest, and can be found on the “Miroir” album. Do you want to get completely lost in a song? Completely lost in a moment? Before you listen to “Différents,” crank the volume way beyond your normal comfort zone, and be prepared for a monumental piece that you will not want to hear just once. If you too are in awe of this studio version, I strongly encourage you to seek out her “Live au Centre Bell” concert DVD, for an outstanding live version. For me, this song and this live concert moment shall forever define the absolute peak of her career. At least, her career to date. Now that Marie Mai is back, who knows what she has in store for her legions of fans. I, for one, cannot wait to find out.