From the first notes of Safia Nolin’s debut album, Limoilou, her slightly raspy voice both startles and dominates, filling what sounds like an empty room and nearly overwhelming the subtle accompaniment. Although at least some of that might be in part to Nolin’s frequently viewed rise to fame as one of Quebec’s up-and-coming indie artists.
Nolin is a product of her age—a self-taught musician who picked up her brother’s spare guitar at 17 and taught herself to play and sing thanks to YouTube. A series of pop covers loaded to the site first grew her audience, and she once pulled in over three hundred thousand views for a Lady Gaga cover.
All of which makes her 13-song introduction all the more incongruous. Limoilou, named for her childhood neighbourhood, is about as far from poppy as you can get. It’s an album full of vulnerability, most of it conveyed through Nolin’s powerful vocals—meaning while it aesthetically first comes across as something akin to Coeur de Pirate, there’s far more punch in every note. Near growls, delicate hesitations, and a willingness to bang and drag on the strings steer Nolin away from that gentleness and give the songs an eminently human touch.
It’s the case with “Si seulement,” which doesn’t shy away from those forceful punches even as it transitions into the cool and collected “Noël partout,” aggressiveness petering into dreamy escape. The latter of which becomes a recurring theme, as she sings “J’ai pris goût à disparaître/ Je sais même pas où j’m’en vais/ Ça peut pas être pire qu’ici/ Ici je meurs à petits cris,” on “La laideur.”
Nolin also relates a certain amount of isolation, weaving its destructive ways into her voice and into the sparse notes of every track. “Igloo,” her first single and the result of a win at the Festival International de la Chanson de Granby, relates just a hint of that as it name drops her titular home, “Sans voir ni entendre personne/J’parle qu’avec moi-même.”
Nolin seems to be the first to admit the album delves into some deep, dark places as she uses it to excise those parts of herself. Her bold efforts make for difficult but beautiful listening—raw, honest and with just a hint of attitude that defies all of it.
Top Tracks: “La laideur”; “Les marées”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)