Ensemble – Excerpts

January 01, 1970

(Fat Cat)




String ensembles aren’t the rarity they once were for indie
bands – making good use of them still is. Montreal-based Olivier Alary’s
Ensemble doesn’t just use strings to class up his collective, but builds its
compositions around the juxtapositions they offer. “Things I Forget,” for
instance, contrasts the percussive elements of pizzicato with swelling surges
that act as foil for, respectively, the intimate female folk-pop vocals provided
by vocalist Darcy Conroy, and the overlapping speaking parts of Alary and


The Toulouse-born Alary has remixed Bjork and co-wrote a
song on 2004’s Medulla, and the first
Ensemble record in 2006 featured Cat Power and Lou Barlow, among others.  That record’s lush soundscapes played more
cinematic than Excerpts, which leans
heavier toward the French chanson tradition. Gentle laments like “Les Saisons
Viennent” and the creepy waltz “Valses des Objets Trouves” could be old Left Bank traditionals as rearranged by Stereolab or Yann
Tiersen, lush orchestration blending with experimental sonics – all of which
are produced without software or sampling.


A few tracks are less orchestrated and tilt more French
indie-pop, like “Envies D’Avalanches” and “En Attendant L’Orage,” each of which
features Alary singing lead and intriguing electric rave-ups. The best of these
is the title track, which finds Conroy singing in English over overlapping
pizzicato pulses while other strings bow surges across the melody, adding a
sense of mystery to undercut the pop beauty.


The not-entirely-trustworthy nature of memory runs
thematically through these songs, highlighting the imagination’s tendency to
fill in spaces real and imagined. Those shifting remembrances color the
melodies in wistful shades, like shadows cast on late-Autumn days. Alary’s
songwriting is strong enough to convey the idea, but it’s the string
arrangements that make the feelings tangible, and Excerpts such a dizzying, beautiful listen.


DOWNLOAD: “Excerpts,” “Before Night,” “Valses des Objets Trouves” JOHN SCHACHT

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