Les chemins de verre is proof positive that musical alchemy needs no translation.
The easy out for an anglophone like me writing about a francophone album like Les chemins de verre — the 2010 Polaris Music Prize-winning fourth album by Karkwa — is to use a Recommended-If-You-Like comparison and equate it to a widely recognized English-language record. That’s exactly what I did back in 2010 when I was first introduced to the Montreal-based quintet’s atmospheric, prog-folk sound. Over time, though, Les chemins de verre has become a RIYL reference point itself as a masterfully performed and sharply rendered record that transcends language barriers.
To label Karkwa the francophone version of any other band is to short-change them. It only takes one listen to Les chemins de verre to appreciate Karkwa’s distinct musicality, in a class and categorization all their own. There’s a dreamlike quality to these twelve songs, a delicateness that can be shattered as easily as glass. As “28 jours” builds to its crescendo, you can feel the tension swell almost to the point of breaking, but Karkwa have an incredible knack for precision. They are in complete control.
Les chemins de verre is a very deliberate record, one which I imagine started out as improvisations in the studio that evolved over time and practice. Nothing is left unreconciled or incomplete. Even with its uniformity of sound, Les chemins de verre offers enough variation to set each song apart from the next. The folky opening vibe of “Marie tu pleures” bursts into the same deep melodrama found on opening track “Le pyromane”, but you’d never confuse the two for each other.
The final song is aptly titled “Le vrai bonheur” — “true happiness” according to trusted translation AI — and I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the pleasures of Les chemins de verre. It is a meticulously executed album that conveys the subtleties and details inherent in the songs’ native language through its arrangements and proof positive that musical alchemy needs no translation.