Past and present combine for post-classical dream pop.
Wyndham Wallace 2011-01-28
Montreal-based Olivier Alary has friends in high places. His eponymous 2006 album featured contributions from Cat Power and Lou Barlow and, as well as working with Björk on a track for 2004’s Medulla and remixing two of her songs, he’s also composed music for installations at museums and galleries like the V&A and the Centre Pompidou. Listening to Excerpts it’s not hard to hear why: he has an ear for the experimental, but he’s not afraid of sweetening the pill with a haunting melody or two.
Alary’s stated aim was to explore "idealised era(s) in which we have never lived" and "beautiful places we’ve never been", so Excerpts is flush with an air of melancholic nostalgia. The classical influences evident in his string arrangements and the employment of old fashioned musical forms – a number of songs are in waltz time, rarely popular in contemporary pop music – help Alary conjure up a dream world in which past and present collide. And, though his own vocals are gently charming, he’s helped at times by the gentle tones of Darcy Conroy, whose wistful, feminine delivery – like a mildly sedated Lætitia Sadier – sits as comfortably amongst the strings of Things I Forget as it does amidst the short field recording of November 22nd, where he treats the tape so that it sounds as though it has been recovered from a dusty attic after years of neglect, much like an old, faded snapshot. Furthermore, his decision to tackle some songs in French, a result of his French Canadian roots, adds a further exotic romance to the mix: Les Saisons Viennent has hints of Francoise Hardy’s early 1970s albums, while Envies d’Avalanches recalls Yann Tiersen, if his latter more upbeat work rather than his better-known Amélie and Good Bye Lenin! soundtracks.
Not that this is exclusively a serene trip down Memory Lane: on En Attendant L’Orage Alary breaks out the distortion pedal, smothering his otherwise gentle French chanson in squalls of noise, while Mirages collapses towards its end into the sound of a distant orchestra tuning up. But overall Excerpts is an evocative, sophisticated and charming record, awash with imaginative atmospheres, that looks back to the past for inspiration without ever wallowing in sentiment.