From Super Furry Animals to Sigur Rós, it's inevitable that non-Anglo artists start singing in English as their international audience grows. But four albums in, proudly Francophone Montrealers Malajube are still happy to get lost in translation, even with two Polaris Music Prize nominations and several Stateside tours under their belts. That said, in Malajube's case, the language barrier is a porous one-- for one, their songs often come with remedial titles that provide easily discernible emotional cues (e.g.: "La Blizzard", "Ibuprofène"), and, much like the Super Furries before them, the band has exhibited a knack for fusing psychedelia, prog- and classic-rock, disco, and new wave into exuberant, easily grasped big-tent indie pop.
Neither as manic as 2006 breakthrough Trompe L'Oeil nor as knotty as 2009's appropriately titled Labyrinthes, La Caverne sees Malajube settle into a lush, soft-rockin' groove that, true to their all-French songwriting policy, suggests the band is completely content playing in its comfort zone; tellingly, the album was recorded in a secluded, custom-built, geodesic-dome house located deep in the Laurentians. (In fact, Malajube sound so blissfully self-contained here, it's not unreasonable to think they're completely oblivious to how much the La Caverne's blue-vector cover graphics resemble those of Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack.) The relatively stress-free recording environment naturally manifests itself in the performances: whether it's smooth yacht-rockin' disco ("Synesthésie") or upbeat, glockenspieled pop ("Radiologie"), singer Julien Mineau's voice rarely wavers from a daydreamy sigh, indicating he has little desire to challenge fellow countrymen Win Butler or Kevin Drew in the crowd-rousing, master-of-ceremonies department.
Clocking in at 10 tracks and a mere 32 minutes, La Caverne can breeze by without your realizing it, which is as much a comment on the songs' consistently pleasing, shimmering surfaces as their tendency to come and go without much incident; while nocturnally tinted songs like "Sangsues" and "Le Stridor" hint at a creeping tension, the album is decidedly lacking in a curtain-raising dramatic flourish like Labyrinthes' "Ursuline", or an emotional centerpiece à la Trompe's epic star-gazing ballad "Étienne D'août". Perhaps La Caverne's streamlined simplicity is an inevitable retreat from Labyrinthes' structural complexities, and with songs as immediately engaging as the power-pop rush of "Cro-Magnon" or the gorgeously tranquil "Mon Oeil", it's hard to fault that approach. But a big part of Malajube's initial appeal was how willing they were to upset their joyous melodies with shocks of screaming or bizarro electronic intrusions. Malajube's admirable dedication to singing in their native tongue already suggests a certain lack of compromise in making themselves more accessible to the masses; with La Caverne, you just wish that same sense of daring was reflected a little more in the music.
Stuart Berman, May 6, 2011, Pitchfork