ALCEST: LES VOYAGES DE L'AME (2012)
1) Autre Temps; 2) Là Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles; 3) Les Voyages De L'Ame; 4) Nous Sommes L'Emeraude; 5) Beings Of Light; 6) Faiseurs De Mondes; 7) Havens; 8) Summer's Glory.
If we (or, at least, those of us who know either French or Google Translate) concentrate on the album and song titles long enough, the first and, for now, only three records of Alcest may seem like a trilogy: Fairy Tale, Space Journey, and now, with Les Voyages De L'Ame (Soul Journeys) comes Transcendental / Religious Experience. Naturally, this is but a subjective interpretation, but it helps — when it comes to tracing the subtle differences that justify Neige's productivity.
In a way, the third album takes a step back: compared with its immediate predecessor, it is noticeably less «metal» in nature, with growling vocals making only a brief appearance in ʽFaiseurs Des Mondesʼ and heavy guitar tones used sparingly and almost always as a backdrop for light-ringing melodic passages. On the other hand, far more attention is paid to vocal arrangements — ʽBeings Of Lightʼ is almost completely wordless, and the focus is on New Age-style angelic choral harmonies; other songs generally tend to veer closer to the French pop-inspired melodicity of Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde. In other words, Neige has mellowed out once more, and the territory through which the composer's (or the listener's?) soul is supposed to journey seems pretty safe for it — light, bliss, beauty, the works.
At this point, one thing I'd like to specifically praise about the album is the drum work by the mysterious «Winterhalter» (going by the real name of Jean Deflandre). Take my advice — if you happen to listen to this stuff and get bored after a while because of all the shoegazing repetition, switch your attention to the drummer guy for a bit, since he is really doing an amazing job out there: nothing particularly complex, but he goes way beyond simply keeping the beat, as you'd expect from an «ambient»-oriented record. There are all sorts of rolls, flips, tricky syncopes, build-ups and releases that do not really corrupt or sway the planned atmosphere, but make the whole experience more fun — the guy just happens to be one of those swell drummers, like Blondie's Clem Burke, who refuses to conform to limitations of the formula and keeps inventing new and new figures out of his head. It is double fun on those rare occasions when Neige agrees to speed up the tempo, at least a little bit, like on the final section of ʽLà Ou Naissent Les Couleursʼ.
As for the melodies themselves, they present no surprises: once again, the craft is not so much in the base melodic figures (most of which show elegant geometric precision, but do not seem to carry a lot of emotional load) as in Neige's trademark crescendos, and he has not mastered any new tricks in that department — even the guitar tones mostly remain the same. ʽBeings Of Lightʼ is arguably the most atypical of these compositions, and even that one perfectly fits inside the formula. ʽSummer's Gloryʼ, respecting the title, is made to look like an unusually uplifting anthem, and its vocals owe the most to the old school French «mood song».
But albums like these are usually remembered by their longest tracks, and the longest track here, ʽLà Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvellesʼ, consisting of a slower and faster part linked through some psychedelic jangle, is not particularly impressive, other than Winterhalter's terrific drum contributions, even if the fast section is, indeed, the closest that Alcest has ever approached to «rocking» (not that «rocking» was ever on the project's pre-planned agenda). This and similar tracks only further confirm that the Alcest formula cannot be improved upon, at least not by Neige himself. The guy is an admirable master of form, but unless he begins coming up with truly stunning musical phrases or steps away from the self-imposed «drone and repetition only» constraint, his fanbase is not likely to expand.
Check "Les Voyages De L'Ame" (MP3) on Amazon