One Small Step Towards Unusual: Les Breastfeeders

I get caught between my desire to listen to unusual music and just liking good no-frills rock music. Ordinarily, I’d have to choose, but, with Les Breastfeeders, I’ve found a perfect combination.

How does one build Les Breastfeeders, you ask? Find a manic tambourine player that looks like a gothic zombie. Check. Make sure the rest of the band looks like fashionable refugees from 2 or 3 other eras. OK. Listen to music written in a language you don’t understand. How about French? Can do. Finally, maybe the band name  just naughty enough to shock your mother, but not naughty enough to offend. Got it. Finally, make sure the band just plays real energetic genre-free rock music. Got that, too.

Les Breastfeeders

Les Breastfeeders

Les Breastfeeders are French Canadian which means that, without anything extraordinary (such as being an exchange student or spending too much time on the internet), they  have many of the same cultural influences that I grew up, just from slightly further north. With French lyrics, I can’t tell if the lyrics are stupid, so the vocals can be front and center without offending my lyrically-too-sensitive ears. For example, their song “Laisse autant le vent tout emporter” could be discussing “My butt is shaped like a corn cob” or “Let the wind carry away all”. Who knows? I don’t. I don’t care. It’s just good fun music.

Altogether, Les Breastfeeders have 3 albums, with a fourth album, under development. The first album, Déjeuner sur l’herbe is a little bouncier. The second album Les matins de grands soirs is a little more straightforward, as if bounce muscles were injured. By the third, 2011’s Dans la gueule des jours, the sound has become more integrated and more unified.

Stylistically, there are two kinds of songs, the driving rock songs and the poppy fluff (a descriptor, not insult).

  • The rocking side is motivated by a basic high energy rock sound with a dash of surf rhythm. Notable examples include the pure surf rhythm of “Y a rien à faire”, the classic surf instrumental “Misérats” or the semi-surf pattern of “Viens avec moi”. Within the rock songs, there’s a lot of room for reckless happy rock music dancing. Imagine Laugh In or the B-52s and you’ve pretty much got it on. The music is a little darker and a little more aggressive, but, underlying it all is the same dancy energy, just enough to keep you attending to the music and not your increasingly uncoordinated dancing (am I projecting?).
  • The fluffy path features Suzie McLelove on vocals alongside a well-controlled rock organ (not the kind requiring a barrier method). There’s two versions, the poppy light-hearted song and the French café song. “Funny funiculaire” from the second album, for example, feels a little like a trip around a county fair, or the Quebecois equivalent. The star of the French cafe version is the punchy sweet closer to the debut album, “Concerto pour rien du tout”

Album by album, Les Breastfeeders’ sound does evolve, not taking big steps, but moving forward nonetheless. With each album, the main styles remain, but with some tweaks, gradually fusing into one band with a variety of songs.

The first album, Déjeuner sur l’herbe, takes both styles of songs, not quite as two different bands, but as one band, with two related, but distinct styles. “Angle mort” has a bluesy western twist to the basic rock song – a little twangy anger. The dark growl and rhythm meld in the dirty rock of “Ça ira”. The bouncy poppy songs sound great, but it feels as if the rest of the band is barely staying under control, wanting to escape back to the rockers. Having lived with this album longer than the others, I’m quite attached, but I do wish there were a little more overlap in the songs styles. On the other hand, it seems to be a Canadian tradition to have largish bands with diverse sounds versus the tradition a little further south of performers joining multiple bands, each with distinct sounds.

The second album, Les matins de grands soirs, continues the distinction, but everything has slightly less bounce, as if bounce muscles were still strained from album 1 and any assorted tours. The overall star is “Tuer l’idole” where the instruments and lyrics keep you running, not walking, forward into dancing like the one crazy middle schooler not embarrassed at his first dance. When you think you’ll get a break, the vocals egg you on even further. On the lighter side, “Funny funiculaire” takes you, metaphorically and in the video, around all the games, food, and fun of the state fair (or Quebecois equivalent) where you play and giggle at your distorted image in the mirror.

By the third album, Dans la gueule des jours, the styles come together more with high energy breaks fitting into the light poppy songs and more anthemic choruses working their way into the rockers. The bouncy rockers are back, but here an anthemic rocker “400 Milles” joins in. What’s it about? I don’t know. Agricultural supplies, maybe? In the album, the band takes the previous organ-led poppy songs and changes the instrumentation a bit to blend better with the rest of the songs. Organ song and rocker meet, finally in “La fille dans lat vitrine”. Stop by the café with the bloopy arpeggios of “Se je retiens la nuit.” External influences seem a little more obvious, but not annoyingly derivative. If Devo and Oingo Boingo merged in Montreal and took amphetamines, they’d be playing “Mes lunettes noires” which sounds like a frantic search around a warehouse, interrupted only by — all together now — a rousing chorus. Bo Diddley and the Ramones “Rock and Roll High School” merge in “Le soleil se meurt à l’ouest.” The best? “Ne perds pas la tête (Marie Antoinette)” which I assume has some historical reference, perhaps from the old country.

If you buy just one Les Breastfeeders album, start with the first album, 2004’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe and, if you like it, grab either or both of the next two and join me as I wait impatiently for their next release … by which time I will be ready to tell you all about the lyrical subject matter. Foreshadowing: “Umm … I’m not sure … is it about life?”


7 thoughts on “One Small Step Towards Unusual: Les Breastfeeders

  1. Where do you find this stuff! Always interesting. By the way, I took 6 years of French and have no clue what any of it translates too! (Dejuener sur l’herbe??Lunch under a bush? I only remember “fermer la finetre,” which I think means “close the window”). Thanks for the review!

    • It’s just a fortunate accident. I was looking at a list of past concerts at some concert venue and the odd name grabbed my attention. Still, I’m happy to take credit!

      I wonder if French in Canada is different enough to confuse learned French speakers like you? Your translation is pretty close to one I saw elsewhere, though.

    • From the orange research team: the album title comes from a Manet painting whose name was translated as Luncheon on the Grass. Now that that’s solved, the research team can go back to assembling portable sarcasm kits.

  2. My butt is shaped like a corn cob? Devo and Oingo Boingo in Montreal taking Amphetamines?

    You had me a butt.

    Sounds like Os Mutantes and Pere Ubu had a French Canadian love child.

Am I wrong?