Features | Awards

2008’s Soundtrack to the Winter Inhaling the Air From Your Lungs while the Canadian Government Crumbles Award

By Conrad Amenta | 16 December 2008

Benoît Pioulard
(Kranky; 2008)

Pioulard is the Canadian winter, “American-born” be damned. How cold is an Oregon winter? It doesn’t matter: this type of cold freezes time and skin alike, puts both in their place. This cold turns time from the sort one thinks about while waiting for a bus to the geological kind that scientists talk about and the rest of us understand in some stupid, stoned way. This winter cold is at once distant and heart-shatteringly romantic, tapping into the same wonder-dull nostalgia that made Gordon Lightfoot possible and The Canadian Shield the subject of novels. I don’t care what the man says, he’s Canadian, and this winter is the canvas on which Pioulard paints with grays and whites.

So, while Americans get some squeaky-clean new beginning and a Clintonian reboot packaged in improved race relations, my country in the dead of its winter grinds to a halt. Three weeks after a federal election words like “chains” and likewise evocations of seizure are thrown around the media while one group of hijackers replaces another. It’s, against all odds, the alienated, reflective state in which nothing at all happens: purgatory. Scrapings from frosted-over mirrors and talking that is the same as silence. And a better soundtrack to this inebriated state of lost transitions I can’t imagine. As for how a traditional folk album placed in the stasis of Neanderthal sleep and hauntingly echoing a mournful coda didn’t make our top fifty, well, I’m too cold to care about.

“Ragged Tint” is a song just before rigor-fingers become claw-like, immediate and ensorcelled by the ghost of itself, then gone like that. The rest of the album oscillates between will-o-wisp hearts of ambient noise and the eulogistic testaments to calamities and narrative romance. The whole thing smacks of maturity, taking this metaphor to its natural extension by suggesting a man in the winter of his years. “Physic” appears like a hand through a crack in a frozen lake, miraculous and terrifying. If Jacaszek released the temerity of coming ends and otherness of dread and pending, Pioulard released the just afterwards and soulfulness of resignation.

I’ll save spring thaw for some jubilant, naïve effort, and insist with admitted cynicism that it’s the long, hard wait that one remembers most. Don’t worry: Benoît Pioulard is patient, and Temper is as natural a way to bear out time as waiting itself.