Premier juin is a beguiling record that feels as if it’s signalling that a major musical shift is underway.
Since the turn of the century, there’s a palpable sense that music has been undergoing an evolution. The established popular genres of the 20th century — pop, rock, R&B, folk, country — are being reinterpreted and reimagined by a new generation of songwriters who aren’t beholden to tradition or categorization. In Quebec, Lydia Képinski sits at the vanguard of a new era of “chanson française”, blending classical literary references with modern instrumentation to build epic, eclectic songs that are still deeply personal. Képinski’s debut full-length, Premier juin, named after her birthday, is a beguiling record, one that feels like it’s signalling that a major musical shift is underway.
Indeed, opening track “Les routes indolores” sounds like earth is shifting underfoot, with its steady, thunderous bass erupting in a seismic swell of synths. It’s followed by “Premier juin”, a song with spritely pop arrangement that Képinski says is a personal song where she “tried looking at [herself] in a naive way”. The end result is anything but naive. Premier juin’s title track is redolent of classic pop and blockbuster 1980s productions minus the vapid and heartless lyricism that set the decade apart. Képinksi gets personal again on “Les balançoires”, where the stripped back arrangement focuses all attention on her emotive vocal performance. “I know for a fact that there is a major taboo that surrounds taking medication,” Képinksi says in reference to one of Premier juin’s most powerful songs. “I was hurt many times because people would judge me based on that. They make super-rigid generalizations, yet they have no clue what they’re talking about. They don’t get that I’ve lived through episodes where I just wanted it to be over.”
It’s likely that time and distance from these defining episodes is what has helped Képinski shape Premier juin into such a cohesive and compelling collection of songs. She says that most of the album’s songs have been around for years and that she has multiple album’s worth of music ready to be recorded, but I get the sense she’s in no big hurry. There’s something to be said for personal curation, for allowing one’s ideas to form and take shape over time. Far too many artists don’t allow themselves the luxury of time, rushing music to our modern day markets because they can. They’d be better off following Lydia Képinski’s lead, and let the music dictate when it’s ready for the world. Afterall, musical integrity and artistry is an evolution, not a revolution.