||22 October 2010
||Post-rock, alternative, pop
Yann Tiersen has come a long way from his celebrated soundtracks for Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Dust Lane, out on Mute Records, dispenses with sweet Parisian quirkiness and heads straight through a war torn soundscape of paranoia, despair and defiance.
The backbone of the LP is themed around some sort of imminent apocalypse or tragedy whether raging privately within (Tiersen’s mother and a close friend of his died during production) or depicting present day geopolitical conflicts. On the whole gone are the lonesome accordions and minimal strings and in their place a whole cacophony of wailing instruments, murky vocals and pounding percussion fight to be heard.
'Amy', the opening track, forecasts the dark sonic assault throughout the album. The elongated drones and heavy underwater feeling adds another element of uneasiness to proceedings. The build-up break down build-up structure and vocals half spoken half sung leaves a post-rock’s resonance.
The title track is the epitome of the album overall. Tiersen has thrown in an amalgamation of instruments to build up an immense crescendo. The 4/4 rhythm starts off softly with folksy acoustic guitar and minor note piano. A monotone chanteuse elevates the sound beyond the gentle. At times as the clinking and clanging emerge, Pink Floyd and murkier Air comparisons are difficult to resist. The first detection of post war disquiet melt into the mix near the middle as a choir of celestial voices compete for authority with the military beat, grand guitar stabs and general rummaging of industrial noise. This definitely is not for the faint hearted but yields a strange sense of euphoria all the same.
The album moves seamlessly into the air raid atmospherics and melancholic accordion of 'Dark Stuff'- dark stuff it is. The ominous spoken word vocals cast a mournful shadow over the song. Tiersen’s soundtrack composing talents are seen at their height; you can really feel the hostile tension within and almost see the bombs being dropped in some far away city as the track comes to a close with ragged guitars and the yelps and screams of the choir. This is one of the most succinct and best tracks on the album.
'Palestine' emphasises the political themes of the album. It rages and roars in a spelt out mantra almost like a battle cry. It’s a forcefully compelling song with the searing vocals drowning in evolving reverberation near the end.
Another key song in the set is 'Chapter Nineteen', a folksy sinister number with Tiersen sounding like the love child of Bill Callahan and Serge Gainsbourg by way of Kraftwerk. The ambiguous lyrics sound like a narrator looking outside himself. This is a long way from Amelie more like Irreversible if you pardon the analogy. Again the minimal seems to bore the composer as he once more plays with listeners’ expectation and adds musical twists to the structure. This is not a man for smooth textures.
After so much distortion and pain 'Ashes', with its heavenly refrain, comes as light relief even though it is still as densely coated as anything else on the album. The rising guitars, tambourines and strings almost sound victorious like a new day is dawning for life after wartime but most importantly this is a new start gained through pain and struggle.
The motif is continued on 'Till the End', again the mantra is aided by driven acoustic guitar and heavy beats amidst a wind tunnel intro. This progresses as buzzing guitars take over and one hell of a band sound rips open like a rockier Mogwai. The polyphonic vocals and stabs of violins lifts the track once more to ethereal heights. This is obviously an artist concerned about the power of music and how it can sway between extremes of emotion from one moment to the next.
The album ends in a gentle if ironic duet 'Fuck Me' that breezes along as if what had come before had been mere whimsy. However Tiersen is still playing with expectations as the soft cooing of lovers is traded for earthy desire "Fuck me....make me come". Although the song is not the strongest and is quite gimmicky, it gives a sense of normality and hope at the end of such a black if cathartic album all the same. The serene flutes and woozy synths that end the entire set sum up the juxtapositions so evident throughout Dust Lane.
Yann Tiersen’s sixth album is a brilliantly dense and bleak work. Although it may be too long in places and too clustered for fair comprehension, it deserves an acknowledgment amongst any serious music lover’s collections. It ultimately surprises those, including myself, who thought that the French composer was just a twee retro accordion player. This can only be a great thing for music in the end.
- Tim Gannon