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Alcest: Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde (2007) and Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs (2009) April 13, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Alcest: Souvenirs d'une Autre Monde

Alcest: Souvenirs d’une Autre Monde

Funny how some musical styles keep coming back, often in fresh new ways. Shoegazer circa the late 1980s and early 1990s was about layers of guitar texture and sometimes noise, often with plaintive or subdued vocals floating above or buried in a wall of sound. But few bands recorded more than an album or two that could be considered shoegazer; Britpop was about to take over the UK music scene. By 1995 shoegazer was over. Over the last few years, though, it’s made a comeback. A few bands are making strong albums in the classic style, but others are adapting shoegazer to other genres. Ulrich Schnauss and M83, among others, combine shoegazer and electronica. Jesu combines shoegazer with industrial metal.

What’s all this got to do with Alcest? It’s a project started by Neige, a musician from the black metal scene in France. Though he was reportedly unfamiliar with shoegazer and postrock before recording the album Souvenirs d’une Autre Monde (memories from another world), this is a richly textured post-metal album that at times bears a strong resemblance to classic shoegazer band Ride, particularly in the vocals. The songs tend to have layers of electric guitar, sometimes with a lighter lead guitar or acoustic guitar melody on top, sometimes alternating with acoustic passages. There are moments that sound closer to metal, with the drums’ blastbeats struggling to make an impact through the guitars, but those moments work well in context. There’s a good balance of elements here, though it does threaten to become a bit formulaic at times. Fortunately, the sixth and final track switches things up a bit, losing the wall of guitars and instead featuring mainly acoustic guitar and a melodic piano line. The vocals here remind me a bit of Sigur Ros, not a shoegazer band, but a band influenced by some of the same sources.

Overall, though the album does rely on its formula a bit too much at times, it’s not a formula too many others are using. And if there aren’t many memorable melodies, there are at least some stirring textures.

Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs

Amesoeurs: Amesoeurs

I thought, then, that I’d like Amesoeurs (soul sisters), another project from Neige. This one is supposedly influenced more by 1980s postpunk, like the Cure and Joy Division. That should be right up my alley, but this album doesn’t quite cohere the way the Alcest album does.

For one thing, the metal connection is much more overt here. The album starts with what sounds like a goth/metal crossover instrumental that switches gears into a more metal attack partway through, with some all but inaudible vocals. Speaking of which, the vocals help make the difference between the projects clear. Most of the songs have clean and clear female vocals by Audrey Sylvain; a few have throat-shredding metal vocals by Neige, completely unlike his style on Souvenirs, and not really working with the material here, as far as I’m concerned. A lot of this reminds me of the Dutch metal band The Gathering’s album Mandylion, though Anneke van Giersbergen’s voice is much stronger than Sylvain’s. But that vaguely gothic metal sound is present here.

Still, there are worthwhile moments. A few songs sound similar to Alcest songs. There’s a brief keyboard instrumental halfway through the album that sounds like Harold Budd. Naturally, it’s followed by a straightforward black metal song that hurts the flow of the album. The title track reminds me of German ’80s goth band Xmal Deutschland’s Tocsin album, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Alcest worked for me because the disparate elements were fused together to make something new. With Amesoeurs, those elements tend to be thrown about randomly, so the album really doesn’t have a consistent feel from beginning to end. I think the solution for this one is to cherrypick some of the songs and make a playlist from it; there’s certainly enough good stuff in the album’s 55 minutes for a longish EP.

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