This one is kind of obscure, but worth hunting down; the full title is Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison, recorded by Harmonium in 1975, who were a Big Deal in Québec back then. I’m sure it would appear in my personal top-ten-of-all-time list, computed by how many times I’ve listened; mind you, that’s with 32 years of accumulation. But I still put it on, and I’ve never played it for anyone who didn’t like it. It’s mellow, sweeping, and full of beautiful melodies, beautifully performed, that you’ll find yourself humming while you walk down the street. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.)

Harmonium: Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison

The Context · Back then, as now, Québec and Canadian music were entirely different things; “Two Solitudes” is the Canadian way of describing this. But Harmonium was different, the music was so seductive that they broke out and sold a lot of records among us Anglo honkey têtes carrées. But I never heard of a tour coming anywhere near me; I’d have gone in a flash.

I honestly can’t think of another band that bridged the solitudes in our direction, and I don’t know about the other side.

Now, about the title. As a reasonably-competent speaker of bad French, I always come to grief trying to translate phrases that use on, because it has a feel in my mind that just isn’t there in English. The conventional rule would give you If a fifth season were needed but that isn’t even close. If I had my back to the wall I’d suggest something like Another season if you need it; maybe someone who’s really bilingual will help out in the comments.

The cultural context is definitely Seventies artsie druggie hippie; the front and back covers, reproduced above and below, make the point. You want bunnies, they got bunnies, every colour. It might help to understand that in Québec, seasons are a really big deal; winter is brutal, spring is miraculous.

I didn’t run a picture of the band, because the ones I found featured guys who didn’t look that great, with bad Seventies hair.

Harmonium: Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison

The Music · If you were going to use the language we used to use back then, you’d have to mention Art-Rock (heavily-composed, elaborate arrangements) and Folk-Rock (mostly acoustic instruments), but then they veer into Dixieland and big orchestral sounds, and, well, it just doesn’t sound like anything else in my vast collection. But damn, it sounds good.

The first song, Vert, opens with doubled flutes that set a mood; the rest of the record sustains it. Nicely-played acoustic guitars and really tasty bass fill in, then the vocals, then the harmonies, then the woodwind breaks, and you know, the music is so good that I’ve never been able to bear down and figure out what it is they’re singing about.

I sat here and tried to write an analytical narrative about the songs as they went by, and tried to show how they evoke the seasons and challenge conventional wisdom about the kind of instruments that can be used to play Dixieland and Folk and Jazz, and the extremely tasty use of woodwinds that you usually never hear on anything that’s Pop, and how the bass-line oozes in behind, and how acoustic-guitar chords, recorded correctly, can sound bigger than Mahler and Bruckner put together, but my narrative skills ran out.

Suffice it say that there are four songs purporting to represent seasons (you have to guess which, they don’t say). Then another, Histoires Sans Paroles, for the fifth, and it’s about perfect. I entirely lack words to describe it, which should be true of all the really good music.

Sampling It · You can buy it on Amazon which means probably lots of other places too, and since every track is good and the price isn’t too steep and the sound is great, a shiny circular object is definitely called for in this case. Go buy one.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Daniel Haran (Jul 31 2007, at 05:45)

I'll suggest the simpler "If we needed a 5th season". It's fairly literal, however it doesn't increase the formality and keeps the generic 'we'.

Thanks for the recommendations!

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From: Martin (Jul 31 2007, at 05:48)

My translation would be "If we would need a fifth season". "On" can be usually replaced by "nous".

I know Harmonium, but I'll look up this album.

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From: Simon Fodden (Jul 31 2007, at 07:30)

There's a stream of a Harmonium song at http://www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=3160

along with links for purchasing all their albumns.

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From: Pierre Phaneuf (Jul 31 2007, at 13:17)

Ah, Harmonium, yes, indeed! Their eponymous first album is quite good as well, and which of this one and L'Heptade, their third and last album, is the best would be quite a controversial question. In fact, the band disbanded after releasing L'Heptade, saying that this was probably the best they could do and didn't see where they'd go after that.

Beau Dommage is also a related band, I suggest you check out their eponymous first album.

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From: jeeeem spriggs (Jul 31 2007, at 20:29)

i used to work at sam the record man on yonge street back when harmonium was still active. one of my colleagues, a francophone from la belle province, told us this music was called "folk lorique". seemed right.

saw the band play at massey hall during their last l'heptade tour. that was an experience. a very talented group of musicians. i prefer that album of all their output, too.

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From: Robert (Aug 04 2007, at 16:58)

Sorry for the off-topic comment, but a while back you mentioned hearing some music by Philip Glass as background in a Tylenol commercial. Can you identify this piece for me? Ignorant music lover wants to know!

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From: James (Aug 08 2007, at 13:47)

If we had need for a fifth season.

Literal and maintaining the correct tense. Mais oui. Ca se peux.

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