These days, nearly every album is a COVID album, but few have recognized the most basic of positive forces: amitiés (friendships). Racine‘s album is an expression of distress caused by quarantine and isolation, but it is also a hand reaching for another and being grasped, if not literally then at least figuratively, with the promise to grasp again.
It’s eerie to look back on Quelche Chose Tombe, recorded prior to the pandemic and released on 21 February 2020, only a month before the pandemic hit puberty. Racine’s themes now seem prophetic. But if his prophecies of doom and disconnection came true, we can now hope that these prophecies of connection and recovery come true as well. The church bells of “Trois cent trente-trois lettres imparfaites” can be read either way: ask not for whom the bell tolls or from one bell all the bells toll.
In the old days, when children became ill, they were confined to their rooms, where they were forced to rely on their imaginations for comfort and company. Sometimes this was done through reading, other times through the outer construction of inner worlds, populated by action figures, plush animals and dolls. A sheet draped over chairs could become an apartment building, a box a secret room, a plastic tea set an invitation to dine. The adult version of lockdown is not dissimilar. Racine searches through his sonic banks for musical snippets, culls conversations from YouTube, and utilizes vocal plug-ins, because he can’t go out to see his friends, and his friends can’t come over to see him. In Amitiés, he creates his own musical neighborhood. Fortunately, he can interact with his friends through FaceTime and file exchange; these actual human encounters keep him from going stir crazy, reminding him of the world waiting to be recovered. Justin Leduc-Frenette and Arigto make appearances early and late, bookending an abstract and agitated affair. In “Cacouna,” chattering birds make solo appearances, sans musique; the title refers to a province in Quebec, but ironically looks like cocoon.
One of the most unusual tracks is “Ibiza,” in that it is clearly not an Ibiza anthem. Instead, the piece sounds like Ibiza after a botched job of erasing the people and percussion. Hints still bleed through the sonic gauze. Vocal echoes and loops pop up as if taunting the one trying to erase them. Tempo emerges mid-piece, slows down and speeds up like cycles of recovery and retreat. The track implies that no current situation can dampen the dual powers of memory and hope.
Throughout Amitiés, Racine strives to retain his humanity while recovering what was lost. These pieces seem like ghosts of other pieces, because life seems like the ghost of another life. But every once in a while, a signal breaks through: the violin of “Arête coincée dans une amygdale” surging to the foreground, the chimes of “Grosso” confident and clear. The overall message: friendships will endure, cocoons will burst, and life will find a way. (Richard Allen)