Ian William Craig – Either Or
Lost my voice this week. "Trouble with your epiglottis," the doctor told me, midnight in an emergency room. At the hospital in St. Leonard, Que., all the signs were in Italian. I stared at the clock, at the signs, at the clock; I felt as if I were trapped at a bad opera. Later, silent and at home, I listened to Ian William Craig's gorgeous A Turn of Breath, one of the best Canadian albums of last year. Distorted voices, tape whirr – if Craig's record is an opera, then that opera was recorded to cassette and left outside on the ice. It is a clouded chorale, indecipherable and lovely, the kind of thing that makes you ponder, as you suck a lousy lozenge, whether it even really matters if you say a word again.
Carly Rae Jepsen – I Really Like You
My favourite pop stars are the ones whose songs pop like rockets. Neither laden symbols nor dancing mannequins but simply singers of splendid singles, singers whose choruses explode across the sky. Jepsen's Call Me Maybe was my favourite song of 2011-2012. Probably it was yours. This should be sufficient. No ifs or buts – we are fans, Carly! And yet the thing of pop is that it's ephemeral, momentary, a soap bubble as it breaks. So instead of cheering on this B.C. musician, we require her to keep renewing her credentials. A hit's not enough. In music, perennials are revered and annuals are mocked: we denigrate the "one-hit wonder" who spends a single season in the sun.
The main relief of I Really Like You is that we can go on "really, really, really liking" Carly Rae Jepsen. The song's good. Not as good as Call Me Maybe, but not much is. Whereas that track was effortless and twinkling, with diving strings, her comeback sprints more steadily, heavily, toward each refrain. This time, we can see Jepsen coming. Let's try not to hold it against her.
Myriam Gendron – Threnody
Montreal's Myriam Gendron speaks French and sings in English. Her one-of-a-kind debut, out this week on CD, transforms the poetry of Dorothy Parker into beautiful, bone-dry folk songs. The music is heartbreaking and unsentimental. It is as poised as a grey sun on a winter horizon. Living in Montreal, sometimes, I yearn to write in French. I wonder what I could say better, what I would say worse. There is a special power to borrowed words, I think. Gendron's songs, mighty and quiet, would be very different in her mother tongue. I hope one day we'll hear them.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.