Camille Dalmais, who goes by only her first name in her musical exploits, is an aficionado of sound. Nominally a pop artist, her level of creative control and variety of approaches leads to music that transcends the shallow shortcomings that the genre can get stuck in. OUÏ is Camille’s fifth album, and the heady nature of Camille’s art is evident immediately: Everyone knows that “oui” means yes, but the umlaut over the “I” doesn’t belong. The word “ouïr” means “to hear”, and the album title is actually a portmanteau of “oui” and “ouïr”. Perhaps it’s an ode to Camille’s affinity for inventive sound; perhaps there’s a deeper meaning here, especially given that much of the album is inspired on at least one level by Camille’s recent motherhood.
No song on OUÏ exemplifies this multiplicity of meaning as much as “Fontaine de Lait”, literally “Fountain of Milk”. Camille manages to conflate the maternal with the sexual, with the cause-and-effect lyric “Et voilà que je fais une fontaine de lui / Et voilà que je suis une fontaine de lait” (“and so I make a fountain of him / and so I am a fountain of milk”). The rest of the song continues this toying with double meanings, using a variety of metaphors (trees, water, and so on) conflating an explicit sexual encounter with a more general sense of womanhood. The music itself is grand, almost balletic, somehow a pop song not quite like anything you’ve ever heard.
A later song title is “Je ne Mâche pas Mes Mots”, translated to “I Do Not Mince My Words”. Given tracks like “Fontaine de Lait”, one is inclined to believe her.
All of that said, for all the clever meanings and levels of interpretation Camille puts on display throughout OUÏ, it is an incredible album even if you don’t understand a word of it. The aforementioned “Je ne Mâche pas Mes Mots” is an intense track built on a quiet stomp of a beat, with quickly-sung verses that work their way up the scale carefully and methodically until the chorus repeats the title over and over, eventually with some multi-tracked backing vocals that contribute interesting rhythms and counterpoint. By the time the bridge hits and Camille is singing a chromatic coda, it’s impossible to avoid the song’s spell. Perhaps most impressively, all this happens in around two-and-a-half minutes.
“Les Loups” (“The Wolves”) is a similarly sparse workout originating from a traditional French folk song that eventually gets some help from some beefy, squelchy synths in making its point. “Piscine” (“Swimming Pool”) is about three steps away from being a tango, with all the confidence and sexuality that might imply. “Langue” (“Language”) is a beautiful ending that sees Camille reflecting on the nature of language as she pours tracks of her own vocals over a calm, droning backdrop. “Seeds” is an English-language track that reads like a list (“Seeds of misery / Seeds of mud and melancholy / Seeds of watermelon”, and so on) until the poignant chorus finds a common thread, asking “How can you buy them / How can you sell them / How can you trade them / How can you do so”, an apparent reflection on the commodification of creation. Also, it’s a very pretty song.
This is the duality of Camille. She can stuff her songs full of metaphor and meaning and intention, but those things do not comprise the entirety of the songs’ quality. You can ignore the words altogether and still get plenty out of a Camille album, just because her ability to construct a song — often using little more than a sparse beat and her own voice — is extremely refined and impressive.
OUÏ is, perhaps, too brief, its songs too fleeting for it to be considered a landmark release. Often, Camille’s ideas barely have the time to take shape before she’s on to the next one, and while the lack of bloat is commendable, giving a track or two some time to breathe a bit might have made for a slightly more satisfying listen. That said, OUÏ remains an impressive achievement for an artist from whom we should be learning to expect such things. Do not let the language barrier put you off; Camille deserves to be considered among the stars of the genre.