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Musician Kaytranada poses in this undated handout photo.
Musician Kaytranada poses in this undated handout photo.

Two songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week Add to ...

Arthur Russell – A Little Lost (2016)

In April, I became a father. It’s May now, and it feels like a transfigured May, the first May of a new season. When my son is squirming on a rainbow blanket, when he’s sleeping in my arms, all the parts of living seem as if they have only just ripened. As if every prior morning were a warm-up for this morning; as if every prior magnolia tree foreshadowed the one we’d walk underneath, together, one evening in 2016.

In a way, this isn’t an unknown feeling. Anyone who has fallen in or out of love, who has suffered a major loss, knows what it is like to find a familiar part of the world rendered unfamiliar, ruined, gilded. One of the ways we use music is to provoke these experiences – transforming the present by hearing the right song. How many nights have been rescued, or wrecked, by a particular piece of music?

The first music our son heard was Beethoven, in the taxi, on the way home from the birthing centre. The first song was Arthur Russell’s A Little Lost. We played it on CD. It felt like one of the most deliberate gestures I have ever made in my entire life. We put it on – that low cello intro, almost fumbling around, then the equilibrium of acoustic guitar and Russell’s small voice. “I’m a little lost / without you,” Russell sings, from 34 years ago. “I’m so busy, so busy / thinking about kissing you / now I want to do that.” This song had never before meant what it meant then, with sun in the window, falling across a little boy’s face.

Kaytranada – Lite Spots (2016)

A music critic takes one month off. Many, many albums were released during this interval. Wildfires broke out. A purple star went dark. The music critic is still catching up. He may never catch up. He may say “screw it,” spend the rest of the year listening to field recordings. But for the moment, he wants to say that Kaytranada’s 99.9 per cent is glorious. It’s the LP this summer deserves (or better), an LP that manifests one of my favourite formulations of Montreal: kind, confident, international. Haitian-born Kaytranada, who grew up on this city’s South Shore, makes a dance music that’s lush and soulful, with moments of glittering melancholy. It’s a rebuke to those who dismiss disco or house as regimented, mechanical: a song like Lite Spots is so loose, so free, with a beat that slackens and quickens, climbs an invisible rise. The track’s cloudy bass and drums seem inherited from J Dilla’s hip-hop weather systems; Gal Costa’s tropicália, dug up from a crate, acquires a flutter that’s almost Bollywood. This is music you want to share with as many people as you can. Good thing we can finally leave our windows open.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

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