Review Summary: The soundtrack to a daydream.
While I am not certain if an actual narrative exists within Alcest's newest album, 'Shelter', there certainly exists a progression of musical ideas that allow the listener to create their own story. I am reluctant to say that this album does in fact have a narrative, as there are no clear characters nor a clear setting for that matter; but there does exist a musical beginning and a clear conclusion. Our mind cannot help but create a story to accompany this rich and evocative album, as it is crafted and organized in such a way to deliver sequential emotions that we as listeners will necessarily pair with vivid mental imagery. The essence of 'Shelter' is very luminescent, airy, dream-like and surreal - as is most music within the shoe-gaze, dream-pop, and post-rock classifications. 'Shelter' is atmospheric, timid, patient, soft, and most importantly, it cooperates with our imaginations to construct scenery and scope.
We are taken upon a sonic journey that clearly begins with the angelic and heavenly intro and opening track, 'Wings' and 'Opale'. The super-melodic 'La nuit marce avec moi' expands upon our environment and adds depth and dimension to 'Shelter' by combining deep atmosphere with simple melody. On 'Voix Sereines' we experience the first instance of real, visceral weight on this otherwise quaint, airy, and seemingly weightless album. Stéphane Paut's high register vocals at the beginning of this track are very akin to that of Jónsi Birgisson's vocal style from Icelandic post-rock band, Sigur Rós. In many ways, 'Shelter' manages to present an atmosphere similar to what we might expect from a Sigur Rós album. It is on 'Voix Sereines' that the album really begins to rock, and the peaceful, warm, timeless paradise that is presented on the first few tracks of 'Shelter' progresses and transforms into a more turbulent and volatile musical setting, making this a stand-out track. Stéphane Paut's baritone vocals on 'Away' demonstrate his diverse vocal capability. It is semi-relevant to keep in mind that Alcest's roots lie in black metal, and this is a vocalist who once utilized guttural growls and shrill shrieks, but has adequately mastered clean and melodic vocals. I say 'semi-relevant' only because all aspects of black metal have been entirely stripped from this album. 'Shelter' is not a black-gaze album in any possible sense of the term. 'Away' is museful and reflective – a fleeting glance back upon our musical journey thus far through the dream-state paradise painted by Alcest's 'Shelter'.
Our album closer, 'Delivrance', is a beautiful and triumphant victory anthem – entirely deserving of its name. It is the soundtrack to a clear and conclusive victory over trial, tribulation, and adversity; utilizing a slow and climactic build up to culminate the entire range of emotions we as listeners have experienced while taking this musical journey as mapped before us by Alcest. If 'Voix Sereines' and 'L'Eveil des Muses' represent the conflict of this album's narrative, then 'Delivrance' is surely the successful reconciliation of this conflict. 'Shelter' as an album is rich and emotive, unforgivingly bright and dreamy. It is the perfect piece of musical composition for the disassociative mind to drift away to with outstanding tracks such as 'Voix Sereines', 'L'Eveil des muses', and 'Delivrance'.