Friday, August 12, 2011

Calendar - JF Robitaille


JF Robitaille
Blue Cardinal Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

It’s no surprise that Skeleton Crew Quarterly has a particular soft spot for lone singer-songwriters, perhaps because their heart-on-sleeve nature typically disregards the abstract lyricism and complicated instrumentation that collaboration tends to egg on. No, these fellas – the Walter Schreifels, the Cass McCombs, the JF Robitailles – they’re towing the line all by their lonesome, rising or falling by the might of their voice and thoughts alone. And like those other SCQ-approved artists, JF Robitaille’s debut strives in such a fickle arena because his songs manage to reach beyond the familiar assemblages of guitar, voice and percussion. These are everyman songs for the times you feel like the last man alive; its hooks will warm your heart while Robitaille’s lyrics numb it still.

Listen no further than ‘Modern Love Song Pt. 1’, an opener that hardly suffers from its absent sequel thanks to a bittersweet, slow-dance lilt and Robitaille’s careful intonations. It’s effectively timeless, which is a damned hard thing to pull off first thing on your debut album; a concoction of mood and romantic ease that’s both pretty and a punch to the gut. Calendar wisely branches off from there, illustrating folky strummers (‘When We Say Goodbye’, the downtrodden ‘The City Trembles’) and upbeat rockers (‘For Better Or Worse’, ‘The New Girl’) that share a keen melodic sensibility for kinship.

Alongside a committed backing band, Calendar finds additional company in the handful of contributors who fill in on drums, keys and vocals. Nobody’s toes get stepped on; the entire affair feels so light and airy, you’d never know upwards of six people (including The Dears’ Murray Lightburn) were playing on ‘Enemies’ (although it happens to be the record’s irresistible highlight) and kudos to the musicians who managed to disappear into their roles like shadows on a summer’s night. None of them eclipse the Montreal-based Robitaille, of course, whose sentiments amass the record’s conflicted heart with tender precision. But Calendar’s squeaky-clean equilibrium feels like a group accomplishment, with an end result worthy of outdoor wandering and insulated bedroom lamenting.

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