On this day in Hull, an LP came out on E-Tron Records. They call it The First Empire but it will not be the last.
It’s been a long time coming for fans of Scattered Clouds, an experimental noise & psychedelic pop trio led by Philippe Charbonneau, with Jamie Kronick and Pierre-Luc Clément. The band’s beginnings are closely intertwined with the E-Tron’s genesis, as are all the musicians who collaborated on this album. The music is simultaneously quiet and chaotic, patient and peculiar. It’s aptly described as post-apocalyptic but we could drop that prefix and it would still make sense.
The First Empire is a six-song concept album that seems to have more singles than not, starting off strong with the doom-laden “Fallen” and their most recent release “Enchanteresse”, which came out with a twisted music video pieced together by Mike Dubue last month.
“Enchanteresse” grew on me faster than “People Walk”, which I’ve already been listening to for the better part of a year. A free CD of the single was handed out at a show at the Blacksheep Inn last March and the song remains as beautifully choppy and digestible as when I first heard it. It’s a journey of self and insanity, which are two themes that pair up often in The First Empire, and not just in the lyrics.
My favourite track however, which I relish even more because of its brief length, is the wordless “Floating Underwater” which immerses us with a marimba. It transitions catastrophically yet pleasantly into “Deepest Night”, an anthem of darkness that uses Charbonneau’s baritone voice to its greatest ability. It ends with the sunken lyrics “at the strangest hour…” and crashes into the most unhinged and experimental of the songs, the title track. The album almost passes in the blink of an eye but it is complex, what obviously took years to perfect.
Olivier Fairfield, who plays alternate percussion on three tracks, as well the marimba on “Floating Underwater,” also plays an integral part of E-Tron Records as the other co-founder and manager. Both he and Charbonneau began producing music that followed their aesthetic vision they had first encountered on their work with the band J’envoie, where Charbonneau actually came in after their record was complete. Pierre-Luc Clément also had a large part in that collective effort along with Patrick Sénécal & Nathan Medema.
Here’s where the details overlap. Cue The First Empire to get through this mesh of music.
You can’t discuss Scattered Clouds without discussing E-Tron. Both began in 2010 around the time the album La vitesse des chats sauvages by J’envoie came out. E-Tron Mountain was still an undiscovered shrine on the north side of the Outaouais that had yet to house bands like FET.NAT, Her Harbour, BOLD, and Ferriswheel.
“Avec J’envoie c’était un band avec une esthétique. Là, avec E-Tron, on s’rend compte que c’est pas un band c’est un groupe de personnes qui ont plusieurs bands qui font plein de choses différentes qui projettent cette esthétique là.”
Fairfield is a name that comes up a few times in the music corners of Hull. Olivier’s brother Guillaume runs Fairfield Circuitry, an industry-acclaimed pedal manufacturer that lends its powerful effects to bands all over the world. Their father Charles has mastered many of his son Olivier’s collabs as the owner and operator of the seasoned studio known as nCode. Olivier himself plays in FET.NAT (along with Scattered Clouds’ Pierre-Luc Clément), La Mort à la mode, J’envoie & Ferriswheel on E-Tron, and in the duo H. de Heutz, which is a sonic study of paranoia & pseudonyms inspired by the novels of Hubert Aquin, on Black Bough Records. His work has led him to join Timber Timbre, possibly Canada’s most celebrated experimental music at the moment, and to form Last Ex with Simon Trottier, also from Timber Timber.
All these parts of Fairfield’s work are touched on by Charbonneau in some way. Often, it seems, Philippe’s work is subtler than his partner’s, even subdued. He takes to the low vibrations of a deep voice and double bass that have created in Scattered Clouds the deliberate atmosphere of dread and adventure. Fairfield operates on a higher energy, with staccato percussion and piercing vocals. Together, they’ve created something that wouldn’t exist without the other, neither without the considerable collaborations of Clément, Trottier JFNO, Linsey Wellman & Gabrielle Giguère.
So, without leaning too heavily into conjecture I would describe The First Empire as a culmination of the vision that transformed E-Tron from an idea into a music machine. The industrious production they’ve pumped out in only five years has elevated the concept of a distinct music from Hull, and of experimental music in Canada as a whole, to the point where I see them far ahead of where other local labels still want to go. They’re an example to follow, for sure. To
This is the supreme authority that I see described abstractly as The First Empire. But here we are complete lost in conjecture as I feared… It is, before being a symbol, a strong album that was a long time in the making.
Scattered Clouds starts their tour this Thursday, and will host their official release parties in Ottawa & Hull on May 2 & 23. Follow the asterisks!