Alcest | ‘Les Voyages De L’Âme’
Alcest’s last effort, the highly enjoyable ‘Écailles de Lune’, was a sparkling one.
Whatever misgivings you could fairly have about their debut, with it’s watery tone and hazy leanings, the follow-up was a considerable game-upper. Through the velvet drape of that album was a nocturnal portrait of the group’s emerging talent.
The considerable ability of main man Niege to produce songs of striking power was silhouetted by the sharper edge of the album, a feeling of proper weight having been added to things. It was, by and large, more metallic and substantially more listenable, with forceful character injected into the powerful, even rapid movements.
It underlined that Alcest at their best boast brisk tone, diverse textures, and heart-tugging hooks aplenty. In many ways, their solidification with a more forceful style gave the project the ability to produce material that was far more crafted and beguiling.
It’s easy to wonder then at the streaming sunlight depicted on the cover of ‘Les Voyages…’, and assess what the contrast between the last album’s artwork and this one’s might suggest. It is an omen. We are duly presented with a night and day change of aesthetic.
On first impressions, the opener of ‘Les Voyages…’ sounds almost wholly benign. However, it carries within it a faint statement of intent. A whole minute of guitar strumming and quiet, radiant synth noises are trundled out, before slowly coming together and pushing off into a calm and warm crooner, ‘Autre Temps’.
There’s something deeply underwhelming about the soft, slow impact of ‘Autre Temps’, far beyond the softness that Alcest usually exhibit. It really and truly sounds like it could make all to well a soundtrack for a Lenore ad, and that’s coming from a fan of the band.
Repeat listens bear the same result. It is a runner for one of the most utterly inoffensive openers to have appeared on anticipated albums in recent times . Maybe it’s the slightly barer quality of Niege’s vocals, or the distinct lack of distortion but along with it’s video, but it is strikingly bland.
That it’s so light wouldn’t really matter if it was effective and catchy. However those are qualities that this album does, for all its effort, lack. As a totality, what’s striking about ‘Les Voyages…’ is that so little is striking about it. For a record so rich in tone and wrapped in a veritable snuggly blanket of fuzz, there’s something sorely missing from the mix.
That thing appears, sadly, to be substance. There are strong flirtations with banality in this release, that ache for minutes at a stretch. The new aspects of Niege’s voice don’t come out too positively throughout, adding very little in terms of any impact and the guitars can hit a stalling pattern all to easily.
Yet it’s not without enjoyable moments.
The harshest song on the album, ‘Lá Oú Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles’, is a throwback to, by contrast, the wild moments of their last album. It’s got verve, replete with lively guitar licks and a pained howl that momentarily pieces the carebear-like rays of warm tedium that drench much of the album.
Many Irish fans, myself included, caught the band win over an expectant audience at last year’s Dublin Doom Day. They had audible power and a layered vocal presence on that night to help make a good impact. I should stress that this record packs a similar sound to their live show, but there’s such repetition for the duration and the mix buries so many details here that almost everything is softened and had the edges rounded off.
Really, this is one that will sort those with serious time for any shoegaze elements from those who more passively like the band. Many fans will listen and won’t find much to their distaste, with all the usual elements present, but in truth, there is much bite is missing from this release. That they had little to begin with compounds it.
As closer ‘Summer’s Glory’ shimmers to respectful stop, it’s tough to justify it’s 50 minute length of the record. That’s not a good sign considering that length is hardly a saga.
The utter filler of the likes of ‘Havens’ is mainly to blame for this, which is chief among moments of boredom.
The group seem to have simply missed an opportunity to fully capture attention on this record, with a ‘going through the motions’ feeling hard to dismiss. Suspiction lies strongly on a mix that buries the livlier aspects of guitar and reduces the snare to a distant bump.
It’s not fair to dismiss the band on the back of this record, but it’s hard not to hope that this isn’t the beginning of a comfortable slide into repetition for them.
Alcest have a fandom now that will appreciate everything they do to some extent – something they earned through some really magickal moments on previous releases. But the rest of us may quickly lose interest if this is the level of sheen they continue to place on releases.
While hardly a glaring disappointment, the word ‘underwhelming’ is what springs to mind. Or perhaps even worse – ‘background music’.
It may be enjoyable enough in short bursts, but at this stage much better things are expected from a band that previously proved themselves far more engaging.
2.9 / 5 – Lorcan Archer ::: 10/01/12