Ah, Montreal. A city with a passion for many things: rye bread with smoked meat, 5 am last calls, hating the Bruins. That passion also translates to an absolutely electric rock scene; a bubbling breeding pool for would-be Iggys and Bolans. Out of that primordial, bilingual mixture comes a couple of rock vets charging up the St. Lawrence and arriving just in time for Toronto’s Canadian Music Week 2014, deux rassemblés.
They are none other than Xavier Caféïne and Stephane Papillon, and these two rock-hounds of Montreal have some nifty parallels. Both started out their music careers in the ’90s fronting some serious punk groups, both cite the early punk scene in ’70s New York as a huge factor in their musical direction, and both now go solo under their own last names.
Not that the solo life has changed much for Cafeïne (his old band was called Caféïne, after all). Here’s a man who would title his albums Pornstar or Bushido, which certainly works out for his aesthetic as he adeptly plays the grimy growler and svelte seducer like any good apostle of CBGB could. Keeping true to the punk spirit, though, Cafeïne is not one to follow blindly as he puts his own francophone spin on his brand of rock, while answering any question of “why?” with a sly, disaffecting “why not?”.
His latest release, New Love, was rightly hailed as his best work yet and Cafeïne’s opus. All the elements for a classically brutish punk-rock album is here: the hellishly pissed-off distortion on the title track that kicks us off, the thick thunder that permeates “Electric”–even the one-two-three-fahs of “Left for Dead”. Cafeïne certainly made his pilgrimage to NYC’s Lower East Side and East Village.
But while New York punk may be the factor in New Love’s sound, it is Cafeine’s Montreal stylings that truly lend the album its uniqueness. Songs like “Lettre d’amour” feature him singing in his native Quebecois, while upfront talk about personal subjects mark the ruminative theme of New Love. It doesn’t get any more honest than “Fucking Time”, where Cafeïne laments, “I wish my life could be a bit better, but there’s no fucking time / I wish my songs were a little more clever, at least they fucking rhyme / Now I’m moving back in with my parents, cause I don’t have a fucking dime /I wish that I could make peace with my father, but there’s no fucking time“. It is simultaneously droll and downcast, and when set to a blistering rock pace the result becomes the standout track of New Love.
While Cafeïne likes to retain a bit of class to his classic punk, Papillon sheds any kind of formality with complete disdain. An absolute careerist in rock music, Stephane Papillon has been in and out of clubs and dive bars since 1989, when he started as the frontman of Cherry Poppers. Had he been born a decade earlier, Papillon may have been one of the formational cornerstones of classic punk rock. His frantic live sets are invested by over 20 years of rock n’ roll energy, with the experience that knows what works and what doesn’t, and the vitality hasn’t dropped one bit.
So it was expected when Papillion recorded a four-track EP in 2012, that that piece of work would be the purest definition of “all killer no filler”. As-tu peur d’la mort?—Are you afraid of death?–certainly lived up to those expectations, and then some. “C’est ça j’ai dit” is an excellent approximation of dirty Montreal rock, “Câlisse” entraps with a rapacious bass hook, and standout “Ingrédients Violents” broadsides the listener with a slam of bar-hopping rock and drunken sax. No abstraction needed, as Papillon states what he means pretty clearly. Good times for all, non?
For those about to rock, we not only salute you, but also implore you to check out the vintage rock of Cafeïne and Papillon during Canadian Music Week. The duo will play back-to-back sets at Cherry Cola’s Rock N’ Rolla Cabaret on Thursday, May 8th, starting at midnight. Papillon, sleep-hater he is, will also be playing at The Dakota Tavern on Friday night at 2 am and The Bovine Sex Club on Saturday at 10 pm.
Check out Cafeïne!
Check out Papillon!
Author: Nathan Christie