ALAN STIVELL: EXPLORE (2006)
1) Miz Tu; 2) Là-Bas, Là-Bas; 3) You Know It (Anao'rit); 4) Té (Beyond Words); 5) They; 6) Into; 7) Druidic Lands; 8) Menez; 9) Explore; 10) Un Parfait Paradis (Miz Tu 2).
From one extremity to the other: if Back To Breizh was a stark piece of nostalgia, Explore, with its telling title, is the most «modern» Stivell ever got since his endorsement of prog-rock trappings back in the Seventies. The harp still plays the lead role on most of the tracks, but now it is inseparable from hi-tech electronic pulses and programmed beats — not that he never toyed with either before, but this time, the experiment is carried through over the course of an entire album, and, starting from the very first track, it is the electronics that catch most of the attention, rather than the harp. Particularly if you are already a Stivell fan and take the harp for granted.
None of the modern elements are taken in a «dumb» manner: hard-working guy Stivell takes as much care about diversifying his drum machines and synchronizing them with the harp melodies as he takes about the melodies themselves. The results are... interesting. At the very least, they show that the man is consistently sticking to his credo: fusing deep past with cutting-edge present. At most, their uniqueness may trigger an unpredictable psychedelic reaction in your brain. Trip-hop rhythms multiplied by masterful Breton harp — you don't find that lying around on every corner, not when it is that creative, at least.
Sadly, I never felt any magic; to my ears, the combination worked about as well as putting whipped cream on seafood. As an original «vaccination» against decaying in one's conservatism, it is probably a good move on Stivell's part. As the possible start of a new genre, say, «Celtic IDM» or whatever, it is ridiculous, bound to alienate lots of Alan's «traditional» fans (those who either view any kind of programmed beat as an immediate sellout, or, like me, just do not see the appeal of these things going together) and hardly capable of attracting new ones — I mean, if you are an admirer of the Electronic Arts, what in the world would make you want to enrich your experience by listening to an old Breton geezer adding plinking harps and buzzing pipes to a sound that, by nature, should rule out «live» instruments as atavisms?
Not that there aren't any good songs — 'Là-Bas, Là-Bas' in particular has a marvelous harp «riff» to it — and not that the whole thing is, in any way, «unlistenable». It is just that it sets a very high goal, and, for the most part, shows that the goal is unreachable (to me, at least). Alas, sometimes it is better to just stick to that harp.
Check "Explore" (CD) on Amazon