Lili Roquelin doesn’t take restrictions and limitations well. After realizing that Parisian industry fat cats favored local DJs over live performance, this Toulon, France musician left her homeland for the United States and pastures of unlimited possibility. It blows my mind to hear that a mere teenager had the personal insight to pack up and move thousands of miles to set up shop in the U.S.A., but Roquelin is a deity that flies far above the confines of impossibilities, and she has the talent to back it up.
Roquelin first caught my attention with the 2010 release of Will You Hate The Rest Of The World Or Will You Renew Your Life? To me, that record established her as an East Coast contender, and built a reputation of an enthusiastic musician willing to do the work it takes to win new fans. To date, Lili has received over 500,000 hits on YouTube. I could be wrong, but I think that makes her eligible for Billboard's Top 100 now.
And while Roquelin has been featured in the usual haunts of New York (The Bitter End, Pianos, etc.), she leaves no unconventional stone unturned, performing and premiering videos at rooms such as Caffe Vivaldi, Hell Gate Social (for her newest video, “Thank You”) and a recent Hurricane Sandy benefit at Two Moon Art House in delightful downtown Brooklyn. She has even played at Lady Gaga's family-owned Trattoria.
Her video for “Should You Get Mad” was produced by Arnaud Muller (U2) and ended up as a featured piece at the Zero Film Festival. She also snagged a second place nod for Best Music Video in the pop category at the ZFF convention.
However, Roquelin's greatest success has been the use of at least two of her compositions for the compelling Lifetime show, Dance Moms. Dance Moms used the song “Renew” in episode nine of the first season, as well as using “Keep This For You” in episode 17 of season two. “Keep This For You” was the centerpiece for a Hunger Games-styled dance routine called “The Huntress,” and it didn’t let the network fanbase down for a second.
Roquelin is one of those rare individuals that understand the importance of patience and detail. This is only her third full undertaking, but already she is poised to inherit the class of Annie Haslam, the fiery insight of Alanis Morissette, and the timbered tone of Kate Bush.
Using top-notch players to hone her style, Lili’s minimalistic writing focus is on emotion. Pushing the dynamic further, she deconstructs a song to the very foundation. The raw soul is exposed at the root, and the melody guides the dark and ethereal communication to its inevitable conclusion on her latest self-produced disc, Beautiful Sun.
Piano is the key instrument on Beautiful Sun, and Roquelin is in charge of her visionary slant from the first track. It is engrossing to note some of the musicians on “Like A Feather,” as guitars and bass were performed by Askold Buk. Buk's résumé is impossible to list here, but I happen to know he has played with artists such as Hayley Westenra, jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and many other top industry names. His inclusion on “Like A Feather” is a complimentary nod to Roquelin's echoed grand, and the seasoned timbre of cellist Christopher Marion. Her talent as string arranger doesn’t go unnoticed throughout the CD either and once again, she uses the effective approach of “less is more” to get her addictive point across.
The CD’s title-track features Roquelin's spiraling piano lines as she sprinkles smooth, blue velvet vocals down over rhythmic pings, dropping the laid-back beat deep into the land of Sade. Blue, jazz-influenced trip-hop is the flavor, and it's delicious at first bite. Roquelin's dream state delivery never rushes to unplanned conclusion. She plays everything on the track, and there’s no inconsistent use of compositional filler or unnecessary instrumentation. Once again, her comprehensible delivery works like gangbusters and the chorus is memorable for days on end.
“Thank You” brings forth recollections of Sarah McLachlan. Of course, the focus throughout is the melodic contour of Roquelin’s unstoppable vocal tessitura. I tend to refer to the classical when describing her vocal, which is fundamentally mezzo-soprano. Other genres actually don’t have a vocal categorization comparable to that generally accepted in the classical context (and you all thought that I just read comic books). The Roquelin-composed cello parts come courtesy of Mike Lunapenia. She waxes poetic with the line, “Thank You for letting me believe, as I truly deserve it all, I have no fear. Everybody deserves what the heart wants.” The cello bends sorrowfully under the emotional weight of the melody and remains a constant companion throughout Roquelin’s pledge of gratitude.
The opening piano riff on “Try To Remember” is genius. It is the simplest, most effective hook I’ve heard from the keyboard in quite a while. I would have liked to see this motif move further into the song, but Roquelin turns up the heat elsewhere on this tune, bringing back Buk to throw some gritty guitar fuel on top of her fiery, progressive arrangement. This is one of my favorite songs on the disc, as it mixes bold writing parameters, rich instrumentation, and some of the best vocal intelligence on the East Coast.
If there’s a top pick for a single, I would have to go with “The Only One.” The song’s verse builds agreeably and quickly blasts into an enticing chorus. Lili holds the arrangement reins tight here, dropping the guitars into the chorus as lush background bombs of vocal call and response dart between deep rolling baby grand pianos.
“Don't Wait” is a smoky minor key pop song with inflections of the blues. Buk returns to ply the masses with understated, Gary Moore/David Gilmour-inspired blues bends and volume swells. He steps in and bites before receding to make room for the melancholia cello work of Christopher Marion. Roquelin’s piano work is spatial and stark, as she lets the song go its own way. Her choice of melody is exact and leaves me shaking my head at the fact that she is not on a major label yet.
The chorus delivery on “Bliss Of My Soul” is yet another reason to buy this CD as soon as you can. Roquelin may or may not have studied the compositional styles of Kate Bush, but if she hasn’t, it's in her blood. Her main power on this disc is killer choruses, and there’s no shortage on Beautiful Sun. Utilizing little more than piano, programmed drums and bass and vocals, Roquelin demonstrates the age-old knowledge that a brilliant song stands on its own no matter how you dress it up.
There are a total of nine songs on Beautiful Sun, and there isn’t a dud on the disc. The closing songs include the Tori Amos vibe of “Brother,” a somber soundscape of faith, allegiance and remembrance wrapped in a choir of the largest proportions, and a return to her homeland roots with a rendering of “N'attends Pas (La Vie).”
Lili is an open and honest performer that melds the two worlds of adult contemporary and exploratory pop into her own fresh and unique perspective, and it's a matter of time before the entire world catches onto this rare Shoreworld gem.
She will be performing on Monday, March 11, at Goodbye Blue Monday, located at 1087 Broadway in Brooklyn. Doors at 8 p.m. and she’s on at 9 p.m. For more information on Lili Roquelin and her new CD, Beautiful Sun, head over to liliroquelin.com.