Saturday, March 13, 2010

ALCEST "ECAILLES DU LUNE" (Prophecy Productions)

Alcest's second album arrives on a wave of fevered expectation and is somewhat problematic as a result. While "Le Secret" was far-reaching romantic black metal with a melancholy sheen, it was still simple black metal. No one could have predicted the onslaught of delirious beauty that Neige would craft on Alcest's debut, "Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde." Here was black metal rewrit and born anew, forged of a triumphant wearied sadness and a resignation to the both the disappointments and the less frequent moments of joy that life could produce. It was really black metal by past association only; i played "Souvenirs..." for people when i wanted to justify black metal's artistic validity (not that i ever really felt it needed any) and give evidence of how wide open and creative the genre could actually be. The album was hailed as a modern masterpiece, a demonstration of a powerful gorgeous new sound, while followers waited with hearts filled to hear what Neige would craft next.
No one seemed more aware of the expectations for Alcest's sophomore album than Neige himself, and for that reason, i think, "Ecailles de Lune" suffers most. Neige tries to do everything he did on "Souvenirs..." again and the result is a weighty, confused set of songs that have no idea what they're supposed to be. These six tracks are bogged down with ideas and complications and more tonal shifts than necessary, as though Neige felt that the only way to make this record better and more resonant than "Souvenirs..." was to make it more involved and indecipherable.
These aren't six bad songs. Far from it. All the trademarks are there, from the clean guitars to the melancholy vocal melodies to the washes of epoch uproar via electric guitars that Neige has so perfected. But here it all seems smaller. The production is tighter and the whole record sounds as though it was crafted and played, and there's little in the instrumental delivery that convinces me Neige or Winterhalter felt any real connection to these songs at all. It feels like it was just done to be done. Adding to that is the sheen of the things-the guitars are MORE clean and diluted with effects (Ben said Cocteau Twins right away and that comparison is not off the mark at all), vocals are pitch-perfect and everything is mixed to work as part of a larger unit. Nothing stands out, whereas on "Souvenirs..." the guitars were the obvious focus (you don't earn comparisons to MBV without shitloads of guitars.) The songs themselves are longer (the album's centerpiece is the two part title track, hitting near 22 minutes) and filled to bursting with parts and movements. The vocals here are especially unbearable, as Neige feels the need to make the voice a much more distinctive element this time out, rather than the sorrowful and tired complement it was before. The choral melodies are extremely wandering and oblique, veering away from the drive of the song so often that it seems like Neige needed to remind people that he could write complex and intertwining vocal lines too. The whole thing is just a strange, off-putting exercise in pointless complexity.
Prophecy's press statement for this record has made much mention of the idea that "Ecailles..." represents a return to Neige's black metal past. Certainly the vocals are there-several songs feature Neige's black metal rasp rather than the clean sad lamentations that made up all of "Souvenirs..."-but there is nothing else in the music to give weight to Prophecy's claim. It's Alcest by the numbers, as sad as that statement is to make. "Le Secret" seems worlds away from "Ecailles...", making it hard to believe they're even the work of the same individual. If i wasn't as familiar as i am with all of Neige's various explorations i'd call bullshit on you if you even suggested such a thing. I have a sad feeling that Alcest may have run its course, and that much like Amesouers last year, Neige will dissolve the project for fear of having nowhere else to go with it musically. I can't really blame him, and i feel that my own expectations for new Alcest material has probably contributed to the disappointment i feel upon hearing "Ecailles de Lune." Maybe i'm just missing something that will manifest itself through deeper listening. I hope so. Unfortunately, i feel like i'm more correct than i want to be. There's a lack of something special on "Ecailles...", some kind of missing element. It's something personal and buried that was all over "Souvenirs..." but is noticeably absent here. Without that emotional weight "Ecailles de Lune" is just another vaguely pretty album with great cover art.

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