You may not know of Julien Sagot (surname pronounced Saa-goh), but if you follow French Canadian music or just Canadian music in general, you’ve probably heard of the indie band Karkwa, which, of course, won the 2010 Polaris Music Prize. Sagot is the percussionist in Karkwa, but like lead singer Louis-Jean Cormier, he has pursued a solo career on the side. Valse 333, the word “valse” translates as “waltz” referencing the fact that many of the songs are in a 3/4 time signature, is Sagot’s new solo album (his surname is just credited on the cover, but Amazon and other sources, including publicity, is listing the record under his full name). The album is in French, save for some broken English on the opening cut, “Avion”, but music is a universal language, and the results of Valse 333 make for a hypnotic, arty, mesmerizing listen. Sagon has been compared with Serge Gainsbourg in the French Canadian media, and that point of reference is somewhat apt, as Sagot makes challenging and uncompromising experimental pop.
The record is peppered with all sorts of pleasant flourishes. “Docteur C” opens with the sound of someone using a rotary dial telephone, and “Katheline” has an acoustic folksy guitar line with the sound of a scratchy vinyl record being played underneath. In that sense, Valse 333 is an album concerned with and connected to the past. However, there are subtle touches: the use of a very-low-in-the-mix steel drum on final track “Générique” is particularly interesting, as the glitchy, soft electronic song is about as far away from reggae that you can get. If you aren’t listening closely, you might miss it. The hammered piano riff of “Maux de Mars” is also particularly noteworthy, and burrows deep inside your head.
Overall, and not to be disparaging of Quebec in the least, Valise 333 seems somewhat more Parisian in nature, as there’s a cosmopolitan sound to the album, and its artiness brings to mind the image of cappuccino being sipped in a sidewalk café. That makes this disc an exciting and inspirational listen, and Valise 333 is more than just a curio for the world market: it is proof that progressive and artistic music is being made in the Quebec music scene that deserves as wide of an audience as necessary beyond those who have French as a mother tongue. Valse 333 is art, accessibly weird and wonderful art, and a real bonbon for those who savour richness in their music.