"Slowly, I went through the village I imagined as a child, I hope to never go back there."
I admire when albums this simple make me feel this way, leave me nearly breathless & enamoured til the very end. Albums so full in spirit, crafted carefully with so much love for the art, it seems you've fought through a tsunami or swam through an ocean to get through them. Such a special occasion for music this new seems strange, unordinary. These moments are so few and far between that when they come knocking at your door, you're hesitant to respond. You struggle to get a flow of coherent thoughts together. Luckily, Notre-Dame presents itself in the most inviting, idyllic way: a skein of yarn of different colours just waiting to be unravelled in all its elegance, and all this elegance brings me here to discuss it.
I keep waiting for the moment where I naturally come upon personal freedom. Growing up seemed to have given me a false sense of complete control, and in the transition to adulthood, a time where child-like wonders intertwined with real-world expectations, I'd come to learn the hard way. Naturally, I learnt to adjust in a healthy manner, but this concept of freedom's been left pondering recently. As I drove across Quebec, I recall sitting, for a moment comforted, by the natural skyline of old ville Québec seeing it from the tip of L'île d'Orléans. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac never seemed more glorious, and yet, I couldn't help but notice the grey, the bleakness of the buildings. At that moment, I couldn't help but be overcome by the sense of helplessness, washing away those few rare minutes of freedom and transcendence. Much like the childlike wonder of Klô's past music, this album is able to capture such a feeling so beautifully in its compositions, and I'd imagine such thoughts came pondering in Chloé's mind too when she departed L'ile Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs for Montréal.
Named after the island Klô spent her days of rehabilitation in, Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is the 3rd elegant tale of her discography, one that explores the toil of locating freedom, companionship, and coping in a time of loss. Klô remains an avid artist in exploring the fantasy-like wonders of the world she masterfully builds in her albums. Notre-Dame follows the familiar fairy-tale style and bittersweet songwriting of her debut and 'L'étoile thoracique'. Yet, evident in its murky, sharp colour contrast in the cover art (compare this to her other albums and you'll notice quite the difference), Klo's world takes a whole new turn. It's no less beautiful and absolutely enthralling, but proves far more destructive in nature. The same wondrous, delicately innocent wonderlands Klô had built before come crashing and burning immediately in the dramatic, chilling closing moments of 'Rémora' and 'Umami'. By 'J'aurai les cheveux longs' and 'À l'ombre des cypres', innocence is perverted by tragedy and drenched in sorrow, sat alongside the sounds of heavenly strings. By the time the songs 'La fonte' and 'Soleil' roll in, all that's felt is pure, minimal sadness and grief torn straight from the heart. Regardless of language, one feels the pain in Klô's performance as she poetically touches upon her father's untimely death.
Notre-Dame is inherently Klô Pelgag, but we come closer to the Chloé behind the character than ever before. For the first time, we see not a fairy of an imaginative world, but a woman of a horrific reality. And yet, as we see in the sporadic, rather surreal 'Mélamine' and grand finale 'La maison jaune', a more playful, gentle edge still remains and brings an album of songs "that speak with one another" into its full form. One that transports its listeners into immersive fantasy lands, vetos and transcends language barriers with its grand arrangements and intrinsically poetic, emotional depth.
A rather fascinating moment worth highlighting comes in the album's first and last few "notes". Klô invites listeners with an eerie, free-flowing intro, giving a strange floating-on-the-clouds intimate feeling, but leaves us on a similar sore conclusion. Unlike L'étoile thoracique's lush, innocently sweet finale which plays along Klô's fantasy fairy world, Notre-Dame completes its tale on a rather grim (to some, unsatisfying) note. One has to wonder just what comes next. A fairy tale comes with its happy ending, but this one is without. In Klô's most personal, introspective record to date, it seems that like reality itself, there is no "good" end to the story. With pages left unwritten, there is only ambiguity and neutrality. And as Chloé speaks of "leaving this cruel world once and for all" in the Vincent-Van Gogh-referenced 'La maison jaune', one has to wonder if the fairy ever truly did make it out. Is Klô forever stuck in the endless cycle, or has she truly achieved longlasting freedom, satisfaction and happiness? One will have to wait to see what tales she'll tell in the future.
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs is a masterful work of pop that never ceases to display Klô Pelgag's fantastical style and restless drive for ambition and creativity. In presentation, these songs vary in many ways, rarely flow immaculately with one another, but all come together for a very poetic, immersive tale that's short in content, epic in scale. This is a sound done before, mauled over to death many times in other Art Pop/Baroque Pop pieces. One could even say cliché at this point just on a surface-level. Yet, Klô was able to furnish these elements into something of her own, a concept and unique artistic charm I've rarely seen before anywhere else. She masters though most importantly the global language of music. Notre-Dame is a gift, one not lost to translation, one meant to be shared and discovered, and that's a beautiful thing.
In short: A pop masterpiece.
"...behind things that seem scary and insurmountable, there might be things that are even more beautiful, even greater, unforeseen things."
FAV TRACKS: Rémora, Umami, J'aurai les cheveux longs, À l'ombre des cyprès, La fonte, Soleil, Mélamine, Où vas-tu quand tu dors?, La maison jaune
LEAST FAV TRACK: Für Élise (if i must pick)
Album trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dChx-O9YbIc