Where was the whimsy? Where was the Gallic ennui?
Aah, a new album by Yann Tiersin, the composer of such gems as "L'Absinthe" and the "Amelie" and "Goodbye Lenin" soundtracks. Quirky, European, misty, quietly belle epoch in their manner. Beloved of people like Neil Hannon. And me. So when I got the chance to review his collaboration with Shannon Wright, I thought, great. A nice Sunday afternoon lies ahead listening to this, pretending to be on the Left Bank or in a cafe by the Vlatva. A nice, pleasing, relaxed experience all round. That's what I thought.
Well, think again Foster. This is a dark record. I should have guessed, as the song titles don't really suggest a sunny picnic. Yes, it's a maudlin record, morbid and tense but always listenable. I shall try to describe some of the songs from it for you.
"No Mercy for She" just slips atonally around the room like the ghost of a Victorian schoolgirl, musically closer to P.J. Harvey than past Yann Tiersin stuff. It's brutal.
"Dragon Fly" is in more familiar territory, a whimsical, cyclical accordian melody waltzes round the dance floor, partnered by some echoey guitar effects. Shannon Wright's voice is pained and husky, she sounds absolutely knackered. It's also very beautiful. "Sound the Bells" is bourne in on an insistent piano tumble, drums play fitfully around the melody with guitars and organ adding some autumnal shading. Suddenly, when Wright's voice enters, everything drops down a gear, as if she has discovered the instruments playing by themselves and they in turn are embarrassed about being caught. Other highlights include "Dried Sea" which builds up slowly only to develop into an acerbic screech-along, all scratchy violin and brooding guitar. "While You Sleep" has a manic, Camper Van Beethoven feel to it. Wright's voice doesn't half resemble Patti Smith's here, especially when she sings the line "You're so innocent when you sleep/ Oh my darling you're too good to eat". It could be off "Horses".
Okay, there you have it. Enough said. My review, presented to you. Well? Well, it's not what I was expecting, to be honest. Early plays left both me and the trainee nurse somewhat deflated. Where was the whimsy? Where was the Gallic ennui? It's not there, mate. All that has been replaced by a stark, grim, medieval sense of purpose. However, on repeated plays, I have grown to like it. It is a strong, emotive body of work. You'll have to be in the mood though.
Words : Richard Foster.