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04/23/2019
Article
Borealis in Wonderland

Listening Post 198. Oz, Neverwhere, Asteroid B-612—great artists create worlds or pair real domains with fantasylands to explore larger questions. Count in this company Le Vent du Nord, vanguard of Quebec’s progressive folk movement. On Territoires, they tread overlapping realms—the Quebec and New France of today and of history, of the heart, imagination and aspiration. No surrealism in these territories but the ensemble more than compensates with soundscapes as wondrous as on any of their previous nine albums, with lush harmonies accompanied by hurdy-gurdy, melodeon, bouzouki, fiddles, guitars and foot stomping. Across 13 tracks they shine light on moments of joy and into corners of darkness, plumbing old stories not only out of nostalgia but in search of new wisdom. Le Pays de Samuel (Samuel’s Country) is a land of dreams, paying tribute to Samuel de Champlain’s seventeenth-century vision of co-existence between European and Indigenous peoples (video 1). The dream faded with the fall of the French town of Louisbourg to a British assault, the siege now recounted a cappella (video 2). Love’s landscape appears in the jaunty call and response of Le jardinier (The Gardener, video 3). Adieu du village (Farewell to the Village, video 4), ostensibly about a killer reprieved when a hangman’s rope breaks, bridges the centuries as a metaphor for humanity getting an undeserved second chance to avert environmental catastrophe. Apropos, with the release Territoires, the band sponsored two reforestation projects aimed at offsetting their carbon footprint. One of the album’s rousing instrumentals, Le step à Alexis (The Alexis Reel, video 5) is based on fiddler André Brunet’s toddler son, a budding Champlain exploring his terrain. Other chapters evoke Chaousaro, a mythical dragon that saved the Richelieu Valley from fire, and Évolution tranquille (Quiet Revolution), describing Quebec’s march from feudalism to modernity—and to the cultural wonderland that inspires Le Vent du Nord. (Borealis Records)