Seattle-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and sound artist Thomas Meluch’s Benoît Pioulard project made a full-length return to its more experimental underpinnings in March with Sonnet, a collection of mostly instrumental pieces composed with magnetic tape, guitar, and voice, off Kranky. Sonnet was followed by two stylistically-similar companions: Stanza in April and Stanza II earlier this month. Following the net release of Stanza II, Meluch collaborated with my friend Ant’lrd’s Baro Records and Portland experimental mainstay Beacon Sound for a limited series of tapes combining both Stanza and Stanza II in one collection. Both installments of Stanza were mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri and recorded in 2015.
Most of Meluch’s albums under the Benoît Pioulard moniker have been made up of wispy, echo-laden folk songs, similar in their sensitivity and mysterious experimental undercurrents to work by Gareth Dickson, Liz Harris, and Richard Youngs. Bearing this in mind, it seems natural that Sonnet and its two companion albums were devised to stand out among the yearly deluge of thoughtful and texturally-varied ambient releases, in both a conceptual and aesthetic sense. Wordless except for the drowned vocal melody of “A Shade of Celadon”, Sonnet is all ephemeral isolation ambient– and it has a fairly specific form: fourteen lines irregular in length, yet following the same dreamy meter. The two stanzas that follow the sonnet are a refinement of this concept: a sextet of nameless 4-minute-long lines followed by another sextet of nameless 6-minute-long lines. Interestingly, the concept seems to be made clearer on the combined release from Baro, as the standalone edition of Stanza ended with the 6 minute-long first line of what is seemingly the diegesis’s second stanza, and Stanza II’s standalone release included two titled tracks at its end (“Held In” and “Courtesy”) that could not be included on the C60.
Sonnet and Stanza I & II represent the most poetic, organically-beautiful offerings from modern ambient music. Like Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Meluch paints in saturated colors so as to evoke heavy vibes of nostalgia and melancholy. Tape decay and heavily-processed electric guitar are looped into a sonic ocean in which subtle harmonies swell and echo– the sheer immensity of these soundscapes is on the level of Tim Hecker’s white noise odysseys, and, like Hecker, Meluch knows well that one can’t exactly recreate the blurry beauty of organic decay with software. I would say though, that Sonnet goes even further into these realms than anything by Hecker, and with more of a pastoral, impressionistic sensibility in which more attention is paid to melody and harmony. What’s more, the textures of Stanza I & II venture deeper into the shade cast by Sonnet.
Stanza is, for the most part, muted and thoughtful– an afternoon lying in the grass on a beautiful day near the end of summer. Stanza II is the slow crawl of orange light over the earth as evening approaches– it steadily grows more mysterious and plaintive, with the emotionalism of Meluch’s guitar surfacing more frequently in the mix as the the sun dips out of sight. The tones that Meluch has struck here, as well as the conciseness of his phrases, particularly in the last three pieces of Stanza II, are marks of a master. Stanza and Stanza II are all of a piece, and they are ultimately even more melodically, harmonically captivating than their precursor.
Along with Deupree, Sakamoto, and Illuha’s Perpetual, Benoît Pioulard’s trio should be at the forefront of the must-listens of the year for enthusiasts of sound art and ambient music. Stanza II is already one of my favorites of the year. Here’s hoping you check all three out soon…drink deeply.
On his new release from the consistently great Eilean Records, Lueurs, ieva (Kyoto-dwelling French sound artist and founder/curator of Pollen Recordings Samuel André) shows how he has progressed by leaps and bounds from the absorbing, but scattered textures of his beginnings as a recording artist to deliver a dizzyingly epic vision. The last we heard from him in the way of a musical release was the gentle A New Morning, a collaboration with Hakobune. On that album one could see the beginning of what has culminated in Lueurs, a dream-travelogue worthy of the finest moments from Hakobune, Celer, and Chubby Wolf. Perhaps the collaborations ieva has made with Hakobune and Nobuto Suda over the past few years gave him the confidence to attempt at this warm, grand style of ambient music.
ieva’s style on Lueurs makes heavy use of field recordings of nature– the murmur of slow-moving water through a forest scene is the steadily ebbing undercurrent of ieva’s new perspective on crafting sound art. The textures of this album are varied, though. On “Forêt Vierge” and “Eclipse”, cloudy, grainy drones set the backdrop for the melancholy fornent tones– this is deep listening material. Elsewhere, on “Vers Le Soleil”, ieva unveils an emotionally overwhelming synth wash reminiscent of Chronovalve. ieva is as adventurous in evoking a varied palette of moods as he is experimenting on the textural level– a particularly memorable detail is the suffused hiss of a match being struck towards the end of “Poussière”, in the midst of a Buddhist ceremony. An ambient album of admirable scope, and certainly one of the best of the year. Highly recommended.