Malajube: Labyrinthes

The crafting of the songs is the point here, not the language in which they are crafted.



Label: Dare to Care
Canada release date: 2009-02-10
US Release Date: 2009-03-31
UK Release Date: 2009-03-30

Over 40 years after the Beatles decided that recording their hits in German was silly, pop music still seems uncertain about how to come to terms with its inherent Anglocentrism. The cultural dominance of two consecutive Anglophone empires has made English the lingua franca (ah, l'ironie!) of worldwide capitalist entertainment; any cultural form based at least partly in language must choose a language, and it can hardly be surprising when the chosen language is the hegemonic one. Domestic markets for music sung in local languages still have their niches, but success on a global scale presupposes Anglophonic lyrics. Exceptions to the rule abound, from "99 Luftballons" to the chorus of "Lady Marmalade" to Sigur Rós, but these are just that: exceptions.

A more limited exception to this is Malajube, a Francophone indie-rock group from Montreal who burst to prominence in Canada (and to some limited awareness Stateside) with their 2006 release, Trompe-l'oeil. The album got a Polaris Prize nod, and its infectious breakthrough single "Montreal -40°C" popped up in a wireless ad, that 21st-century equivalent of a top-40 single. Malajube's success was less a confirmation of Canada's self-hyped bilingualism than it was a vindication of the band's restless and modern brand of ambitious pop. Like Sigur Rós, Malajube crosses linguistic barriers at the primal aesthetic level that makes music a universal form of expression, to drag up a hoary old cliché that nonetheless rings true. You don't need to speak French to comprehend the breadth of loss contained in Trompe-l'oeil standout "Étienne d'août"; it's palpable in every stretched minor chord. The music, as the band's keyboardist Thomas Augustin put it, "talks to people".

Give Malajube credit, then, for letting its music speak in different voices on their latest effort, Labyrinthes. The trademarks of Trompe-l'oeil remain potent. Julien Mineau's lead vocals are drugged into somnambulant jouissance, and the arrangements can veer from those dreamier tones into fin-du-monde barrages with nary a warning. Lead track "Ursuline" opens with chamber synths reminiscent of "Lose Yourself", a not-inappropriate invocation considering the chugging pugilistic epic that it becomes over its almost-seven-minute runtime. It's not as stunning as it sets out to be, but its head is firmly in the clouds. It relents and lets the poppy single "Porté disparu" take over. One gets the very occasional feeling when listening to Malajube that they would be a fairly uninspiring and generic indie combo if they didn't sing in French. That feeling is all over both this song and "Luna", which follows it to little effect. Still, their Franco-alterity pulls them out of the fire.

Fortunately, Labyrinthes has a hefty midsection. "Casablanca" has no top or bottom, floating effortlessly in the ether. The guitar breaks take expansive baroque patterns before exploding into tactfully-brief cornball power-ballad glory in the lightning-quick closing crescendo. "333" brings Trail of Dead-style harsh grandeur on a tour of La belle province before fading out into wobbly slides. "Les collemboles" is the requisite irresistible indie anthem, its refrain plunging into dance-rock hi-hats and keyboard melody hooks and yet remaining glorious despite its predictability. It ends in a wind-swirled debris field of electronic washes and power-chord machetes and segues into the gorgeous and brisk "Hérésie". "On expire", Mineau breathes out – or is he dying? It's short and sweet, and the album's invigorating spirit escapes with it. "Le tout-puissant" and closing instrumental "Christobald" have little of unique character to offer, and then it's over.

Malajube, by their own admission, aim to make music that "talks to people", evidently across linguistic and cultural lines. Contained in their transcendence of pop's Anglophonic predominance is an insistent appeal to de Saussurean linguistic theory. Malajube seek to make the key distinction between langue and parole, between the terms on which meaning is expressed and the discourse employed within that language to express it. Labyrinthes has a larger point beyond its mostly-successful crafting of songs: the crafting of the songs is the point, not the language in which they are crafted. The langue can be overcome if the parole is strong enough. They are not the only artists aiming to put this across, of course, but they are once again quite successful at it.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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