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First Play: Jean-Michel Blais, Dans ma main

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Jess Huddleston

While most might categorize Jean-Michel Blais’ instrumental music as “indie classical,” his second album Dans ma main proves that even a sub-genre is too limiting in its description of what the post-classical pianist has achieved. It’s still true that Blais doesn’t allow the confines of traditional classical music to limit his performances, instead opting to explore more complex — and consistently moving — sonic experiments that elevate the whole emotional experience.

Similar to his 2016 debut Il, Blais' vulnerability is present from the first notes of Dans ma main. The precious, music box-sounding keys of “forteresse" usher in the minimalist beauty of the album, heard again on quiet tracks like “sourdine” and “outsiders," without alluding to richer textures that are to come.

On Il, Blais used delicate piano and light background noise to embody the album’s message. Dans ma main adventurously introduces both subtle and more vivid waves of electronica on tracks like the IDM-influenced “igloo" and “blind," reminding at times of his joint release with musician CFCF, and furthering the modernism of his craft. On the album closer “chanson,” Blais paints in a new layer of vulnerability by singing softly and indiscernibly alongside keys — leaving you begging to know what he’s saying.

The devastating single “roses” stands alone as one of the greatest lessons on the album; it’s a cinematic-sounding story of healing. The ballad blends cascading piano, strings and echoes to showcase what Blais says is "the cathartic effects of music and the understanding of sickness and wellness it provides."

“'roses' is a funeral piece dedicated to my friend's mother who died from cancer,” Blais says. "The ostinato, the repeating single note in the intro, represents her beating heart, and the ever-present tumour, sometimes forgotten but still growing. How do ill people find peace, if they can at all?”

Experimentation aside, the underlying thread throughout the Montreal artist’s evolution is unparalleled intimacy. Within his collections of poignant sounds that are, more often than not, sort of core-shaking, Blais impressively tells the stories of his own life — while leaving space and feeling for our own interpretations.

As Blais says, “What one hears becomes more relevant and telling than what is said.”

Dans ma main will be released Friday, May 11 via Arts & Crafts.

More to explore:

First Play Live: Jean-Michel Blais and CFCF, Cascades

Jean-Michel Blais bridges classical and indie music

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