Polaris

Shortlist shortcut to Hubert Lenoir's Pictura de Ipse: Musique directe

How the 2nd track 'Secret' is the perfect gateway to the Quebec singer's Polaris-shortlisted album.

How the 2nd track 'Secret' is the perfect gateway to the Quebec singer's Polaris-shortlisted album

Hubert Lenoir's 2nd album, Pictura de Ipse: Musique directe, is on the 2022 Polaris short list. (Courtesy of artist; design by CBC Music)

To help music fans get to know the 10 Polaris Music Prize-nominated albums, CBC Music presents the Shortlist Shortcut series. Every week, we will ask a nominated artist for a recommended track off their shortlisted record. Perhaps it's a song that best represents the themes on the album, or maybe it's the most important, difficult or rewarding song they wrote. The question was left to the artist to interpret, but the hope is that the selected track will give us a pathway into their work. 

In the sixth instalment of this series, we spoke with Quebec City singer Hubert Lenoir, who has now been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize twice, following Darlène in 2018.


Written by Erin MacLeod

It may be the second track on Hubert Lenoir's Polaris-shortlisted album, but "Secret" is the first song you should listen to if you want to understand Pictura de Ipse: Musique directe. Advertising itself as a self-portrait, the first half of the album title means "picture of myself" in Latin. 

Picking a gateway to this record was hard for Lenoir, whose work was last shortlisted in 2018 for his decidedly more raucous debut, the glam concept album Darlène. This latest release is equally a package deal. 

"I really worked on the album as a whole," Lenoir explained to CBC Music, "so it's really hard to pick a song that will represent the whole thing. If I would have to play a song to somebody I care about and I care about their opinions, I would probably first play 'Secret,' because when I wrote the song, it kind of came at the end of the writing process."

Smooth and sexy with a head-nod-worthy groove, Lenoir's plaintive vocals describe what it's like to keep feelings under wraps: "J'voudrais te parler de mes sentiments que j'éprouve en secret" (I'd like to tell you about my feelings that I have in secret). The song's foundation was established after a Los Angeles jam session with Mac DeMarco that led to a range of different pieces — "vibes and ideas," says Lenoir. "In the case of 'Secret,' I just had this groove, this jam with different sections in it, and I kind of shoved the whole thing together and made a song." 

The video for "Secret" illustrates the impossible love described in the song's lyrics, showing an unrequited relationship between a high-school jock and a local skunk (played by Lenoir himself, complete with a shock of white hair, long tail and claws) who has a penchant for late-night sax solos in his beloved's backyard. Directed by Noémie Leclerc, who is also Lenoir's partner, some scenes are shot in Lenoir's old high school, "so everything is kind of like a true story," he says. 

In addition to looking back over his own life for this album, Lenoir is no stranger to being inspired by the past (he's already claimed Quincy Jones, C.A. Quintet and Stooges as influences). But this time, it's the creative process that he's mined from history — specifically, the documentary style called cinéma direct. Originating in the late '50s, early '60s in Quebec, cinéma direct was all about using higher tech, portable cameras and live sound to capture reality as it is. 

When conceptualizing his followup to the rock opera-esque Darlène, Lenoir experimented with beats and melodies in pursuit of that cinéma direct authenticity. "Music comes pretty easily," says Lenoir, but "it took a long time to have a piece of music that felt something to me." That's where the second half of the album title, Musique directe, comes in.

Inspired by the desire for immediacy that fed into the cinéma direct style, Lenoir realized that he had all sorts of snippets of sound recorded on his phone: discussions of bullying; transit sounds in Paris, Montreal and Quebec City; and bits of conversation. These are sprinkled between relaxed tracks like "Octembre," the more beat-driven "Dimanche soir" and the infectious "Sucre+sel." 

Every piece frames and shapes the whole of Pictura de Ipse, providing an exploration of, and insight into, Lenoir himself. Cinéma direct was part of a revolution in filmmaking, so is this an example of the same? 

"I don't know if there's a revolution going on, maybe yes. But for this particular album, I was mostly talking about the revolution going on in my heart, in my own self," says Lenoir. "But sometimes things that are very precise are the most universal."

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