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Talking Albums: Philippe Charbonneau

By John McDonald on May 17, 2020

Philippe Charbonneau has been busy. Full stop.

That’s him playing bass in the video of Jasmine Trails at the Drake Hotel. And he’s in the video for Claude Munson’s “The Silence Came After.”

“I don’t play in Claude’s live band anymore, but I’m still very much active in the project as I produce his records and play a variety of stuff on them,” he says.

And then there’s Evening Hymns. “I did quite a bit of touring as a keyboard player with them in the past and have played on the Northern Arm EP and the forthcoming LP.”

But wait. There’s more.

“I’ve done the Listen/Hear ambient performances at Ottawa City Hall. I also wrote an ambient piece for Artengine’s Sonicity Project.  As for bands, I play bass with locals Jim Bryson and John Carroll. And I’m part of a rotating cast of bass players for Montrealer’s Camille Deléan, Michael Feurestack and Land of Talk. I’m a band member and play principally upright bass in Montréal-based instrumental groups Ferriswheel and Esmerine. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I co-founded the Hull-based record label/collective E-Tron Records. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year.”

But wait. There’s still more. Philippe also forgot that he’s one-half of Scattered Clouds, with Jamie Kronick. Their music is “dark, experiential and post-apocalyptic.” Their second full-length album, Take Away Your Summer, was released last June. The cover photo of the fire-engulfed Hull landmark Épicerie Carillon was taken by Philippe.

Busy, busy, busy. So how is he handling these “stay home” days?

Philippe Charbonneau. Photo provided by the artist.

Philippe Charbonneau:

I had a bunch of stuff going on before the shutdown.

I was rehearsing for a tour through France with (Montreal’s) Esmerine, and had some studio work booked for some records I’m producing. That was in addition to prepping for a few local gigs and doing my regular work as a contemporary dance accompanist. I also had some potential U.S. dates in the summer playing bass for Land of Talk (who are releasing a new album in July), but all of that has been postponed to next year.

Scattered Clouds is supposed to play in Russia in September, but with the current state of the world I’d be surprised if that will happen.

I don’t have much plans for after the “shutdown.” As a matter of fact, work this summer is looking pretty bleak—I doubt I’ll play any festival shows or go on tour. I’ll probably keep on doing what I do every day now, which is work on music in my studio space.

I’ve been recording music a lot. I consider myself pretty lucky because I’ve been able to keep on working from home during the pandemic. I’ve been recording bass and double bass for people, producing tracks for this dance company I work for, and collaborating with artist friends of mine on some new music.

It’s actually been a great time to hone my skills as a producer and really dig deep in my studio. Now that my days all look alike, I’ve taken the opportunity to integrate an everyday routine which includes ear training, exercising, cooking, and late-night walks while listening to records. All in all, it’s been a pretty positive experience and ironically I feel healthier than ever.

Except I need a haircut.

Two albums that I’ve been listening to are The Terror from Flaming Lips, and Low’s Double Negative. They’re not new albums to me, but I’ve recently rediscovered these on my late-night walks through what has been a very desolate Hull landscape. Both albums share a similar vibe and are very fitting to my perception of the current global climate: The songwriting and vocal performances are both defeatist and dark. I find solace in listening to records that match my mood and these records really hit the mark. On a more technical level, both records share a blown-out production style that I’ve been really drawn to in the last few years. They’re not clean or calculated and I’d go as far as saying that they sound broken. I love it.

Flaming Lips – The Terror

Pitchfork called the band’s 13th studio album “unrelentingly bleak…drowning its meditative, melancholic melodies in a suffocating, smoggy haze of buzzing synth frequencies, with little rhythmic release.” Consequence of Sound noted that frontman Wayne Coyne called the 2013 album “possibly the best Flaming Lips record” even though “he’s unable to listen to it due to painful memories associated with it.” NPR said it sounded “almost post-apocalyptic in its scabrous, searching bleakness” and also quoted Coyne as describing the album as “disturbing.”

Low – Double Negative

You may know Low for their slow tempos and minimalist arrangements, a style known as slowcore. With Double Negative, things are different. Uncut said that “Low have never made a record quite so jarring and jagged.” Pitchfork wrote that the band “warped their slowcore sound to create an ambitious, modern wonder of an album, an exploration of the song as an imperfect conduit of feeling.” The Guardian said that the “trudging, incantatory tone” feels “like the last rites of a nation – even the planet – are being read out.” Stereogum said the album “reflects experiences back at you, in the way that a distorted image reveals truths you couldn’t find before.”

More from Philippe Charbonneau:

E-Tron Records

Scattered Clouds on Bandcamp

“Days on End” (from Take Away Your Summer)

Bands Philippe has been playing with:

Jasmine Trails – “Alive + Well” (Live at the Drake Underground)

Claude Munson – “The Silence Came After”

Evening Hymns – “I Can Only Be Good” (from the forthcoming Heavy Nights)

Esmerine – “Piscibus Maris” and ”The Space In Between” (from Mechanics of Dominion)

Land of Talk – “Compelled” (from the forthcoming Indistinct Conversations)