The name and artwork of Malajube’s new album may seem a bit telling at first look: La Caverne, the band’s follow up to their most prominent album to date, 2009’s Labyrinthes, translates to “The Cave” in English, and the icy-blue diagrammatic structure on its cover does nothing to subvert the evocative title. But it doesn’t even take a full listen through to hear that this is one of the Montreal four-piece’s consistently upbeat records in years. So is all that dark imagery just an ironic statement, then? Not exactly.
“We didn’t want to go in the studio at first so we just kind of looked around for a cottage, or house, and it took us about three months to find this one,” says the band’s bassist Mathieu Cournoyer over the phone from Montreal. “It’s a house that was for sale, so we just asked if we could rent it for two months. It was so weird. It’s like an igloo or something. It’s the house you see on the cover of the new album.”
Located in Morin Heights, Quebec, the band took to calling the house their “geodesic modern cave,” holing up for the last few months of 2010 and recording and producing the entire thing themselves. The ease and freedom of the process finds its way into the breezy, effortless pop of “Cro-Magnon” and “Ibuprofène”; the charged transition between cold to colder seasons during the sessions can be heard too, in the plodding atmospherics of the title track and “Sangsues,” while tracks like “Mon oeil” are a mixture of the two, spacious and dynamic—and very Malajube.
“We were in that house for two months, just always the four of us together,” Cournoyer says. “Just to be recording, and having supper, talking about the songs…it changed the dynamics of recording in the studio. I think you can feel it in the album.”
And the ease of La Caverne isn’t just from a laid-back recording process. Now four albums into a career that has been a talked-about one from the beginning (their debut won them accolade in Quebec’s music scene, and both 2006’s Trompe-l’œil and 2009’s Labyrinthes were shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, opening the band up to the much-larger English music market in Canada and beyond), Malajube have remained a band to watch. But Cournoyer says that instead of adding weight of external pressure, the attention has helped form their band identity and given them a clearer understanding of their own path and expectations.
“I think we just realized by now that we know where it’s going to get us. We’re not going to be selling millions of albums and touring the world,” he states. “We sing in French, and I think we just know where that’s going to take us. We know what to expect a little more than we used to.”
Indeed, language has been a point of much attention for the band (they perform all of their music in French and aren’t interested in doing otherwise for others’ sake). Cournoyer says it’s simply a matter of fact for the band at this point.
“Just because we sing in French, people don’t go past that. It’s never just going to be ‘I love that band,’ it’s going to be, ‘I love that band, they sing in French.’ And [that's how] it’s always going to be.”
After two successive Polaris nominations for Malajube, another French-Canadian band, Karkwa, took the prize in 2010. Malajube was the first Francophone band to be nominated, and last year, along with the winners, a second Francophone act, east coast hip-hop group Radio Radio, was on the shortlist. Cournoyer is happy that his band was able to be the torchbearers, but admits that the win for his friends in Karkwa was a bit bittersweet, and while he won’t predict Malajube’s shortlist three-peat, he can’t deny it’d be kind of nice.
“As much as we were happy for them, we were saying, ‘Damn, we had two albums there and we didn’t win, what the hell!’” Cournoyer says, laughing.
“But no, it’s good for them, and if we can go back there next year that’d just be amazing.”