This question must have been on Montreal musician Delachute’s mind nearly every day while working for the Parole Board of Canada. His job: accompanying victims (or the victim’s family members, if the victim had died) to federal prison to attend the hearing of the offender. It was his duty to bring a murdered person’s loved ones into the same room as the murderer. The stories shared in those hearings were as troubling as one could imagine: emotionally fraught, psychologically disturbing, and socially complex. It’s these stories that led Delachute to create music in an attempt to unravel the complexity.
“Caligula” provides a hazy, sonic snapshot of one of these stories. The song’s subject, obsessed with the authoritarian Roman emperor Caligula, believed that if he killed his family, he wouldn’t have to worry about money for the rest of his life. This man was fond of Caligula’s most infamous quote, which Delachute utters in delicate falsetto throughout this track: “remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”
Delachute’s first single features a hypnotic, insistent indie rock instrumental matched with vocals that sound like a secret wrapped in cloth at the back of a drawer. The song, produced by Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Timber Timbre), suits its subject: it is persistent, just rough enough to disorient, and begins just as it ends, though with much more to ponder. The antithesis of a sensationalized murder ballad, “Caligula” is an earnest character study—a spiritual relative of Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” which pondered the life of the famous serial murderer with its indelibly closing rhyme: “In my best behaviour, I am really just like him / Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”
“Caligula” leaves listeners with a similar sense of uncertainty. Addressing the murderer directly, Delachute sings, “you thought that it would set you free,” filled with fascination and disbelief. Yes, this man was a murderer, but just as the Encyclopaedia Brittanica says of the emperor Caligula, “ancient historians are so biased against him that the truth is almost impossible to disentangle.”
Delachute’s “Caligula” is unafraid to look for truth—to dwell right there, in the room with a killer, and ask: why?