review

the muse in music

This is a tasty, messy feast that never should have worked.

Julien Baillod (AKA Bio) is a Swiss composer, guitar player, and sound designer. His decade-long, kilometer-wide CV includes albums, film and stage soundtracks, and collaborations of every description. Cyril Monnard, Larkian to us, is a guitarist and sound artist with more than a dozen records and compilations in his discography. Les Poissons Autistes are a clangy and cerebral pair from Lausanne. Through the magic of file sharing, they have come together on a single release. This is not a split album, mind you (Musique Fragile comes at once to mind), but a proper mash-up. Track one: Bio, Larkian and Les Poissons Autistes. Track two: Bio, Larkian and Les Poissons Autistes. Track three … you get the idea.

Three uncompromising and lesser-known artists, collaborating on a joint venture for an uncompromising and lesser-known record label. Positive identification of rock, folk, jazz, electronica, post-rock, hard rock, Nashville, modern classical, "and even Mongolian traditional folklore." No vocals, no blueprint, no frontman, very little percussion. It all sounds perfectly disastrous.

Even in the age of the tracklist, no album can escape its opening moments, and the early seconds here ("Si j’étais chez vous, je partirais") lapse into new age, double-tap guitar. The axewielding tapers off at 90 seconds in, and this second attempt at a first impression is much better: stark, testy and visual processing, steeping in the lower registers, not just out of tempo, but timeless. The tempest brews for another five minutes until the barefoot guitar returns, more welcome now, like calm after a storm. This is the currency of Bio+Larkian+Les Poissons Autistes, disparate elements, often unfamiliar to each other, but which work together more often than not.

"La chaussette vide" is a prime example of the former. What first reads as an extended psilocybin intro (guitar-as-serotonin, bass-as-dopamine) reveals itself instead to be a long-track exploration of a theme. Swelling waves of stringwork and ambiance recall again the storm motif, and a brief, relatively quiet percussive guitar lick at the final stretch disperses the rather climatic tension. Perhaps the most conventional cut is the second one, "Le garçon qui ferait plaisir à maman." Inch-by-inch gunslinger guitar and distant electric cello navigate a barely-audible percussion lick and impeccable atmospherics.

The album is not without its flaws. The best one can write about "Sans rancune" is that the piece is interesting. The featureless drone lead-in weighs in at nearly 2:30, and the payoff is not worth the wait: slow melodies, an understated backdrop, and a curious goose-honk effect (liner notes reveal that nearly all pre-processing instrumentation was performed on guitar or cello). "L’éteignoir à filles" suffers from a similarly lackadaisical intro, but just try and tell us that from the 1:30 mark, the languid guitar and the delicious, nostalgic synth do not recall the finest moment of The Cure’s Disintegration album. (Here’s a hint: we won’t believe you if you do.)

Every time and again, the alt-music scene experiences a brief but notable surge forward, say, an indie crossover group winning big at the Grammys. In the discussions that follow, one question drives all the others: what constitutes independent music? Let us propose now that the adjective no longer hinge on whether or not the record label is beholden to a big-name, deep-pocket holding company (although, we can assure you, three:four records is not).

Instead, the ever-evolving terms "indie", "independent" and "alternative" should be matters of the composer’s ethic. The spontaneous, nearly organic method of songwriting via file sharing may more resemble novel writing than hitmaking, yet that is exactly the point. Bio+Larkian+Les Poissons Autistes is not for everyone. But a few artists still giddily anticipate the new ways, and, indeed, would like to take a shot at our notions of the song, the album, and of music herself.