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The Exquisite Agony of Myriam Gendron

Quebecois avant-folkie returns with a fresh crop of euphoric bummers
Myriam Gendron (Photo credit: Justine Latour)

Myriam Gendron – Mayday
Thrill Jockey/Feeding Tube

“Mayday” can signify a pagan celebration of spring, a holiday recognizing workers’ solidarity, and a signal of urgent distress. Myriam Gendron’s third album of melancholy ruminations and stubborn lamentations could refer to all three. 

On her first two records, the Quebecois folk singer wrapped her low, steely purr around diverse material—from the sardonic light verse of raconteur Dorothy Parker to her own lyrics about the birth of her daughter. Gendron briefly returns to Parker once again on this one (the sweetly acid “Dorothy’s Blues,” expanded from a Parker snippet about the impermanence of love), but Mayday mostly deals with personal subjects, including her mother’s death. 

With her remarkable voice—slippery, shadowy, haunted by the ghost of itself—and dolorous melodic sensibility, Gendron renders whatever she’s feeling (grief, awe, bittersweet joy) as a complex continuum. Her songs are always jubilant and despairing, resolute and unmoored, hopeless and stubbornly persistent all at once. Utilizing a proper studio for the first time, with Dirty Three drummer Jim White and improvisational guitarist Marisa Anderson joining on several tracks, Gendron adds new layers of intuitive fluidity to her songs, while also carving out time just for herself and her fermented sorrow. 

“There Is No East or West”—whose title nods to “In Christ There Is No East or West,” a favorite hymn of John Fahey—is a disconsolate beauty, with just Gendron on acoustic guitar. And for “Lully Lullay,” a 16th-century Christmas carol about—wait for it—Biblical child slaughter, Gendron just sings, accompanied by White’s delicate thunder and Anderson’s gently searing guitar. (She also updates the lyrics, seemingly turning the piece into a farewell to her deceased mother, conjuring a lullaby for sleepless spirits.) The final song, “Berceuse,” ends with a tender yet seething sax solo by rising avant-garde star Zoh Amba—a fitting conclusion to an album heavy on murder ballads, except the victims die of natural causes. GRADE: A

You can check out Mayday at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

Thrill Jockey/Feeding Tube