Review Summary: 2012 is looking to be a good year for music, as Alcest starts things off by releasing an immersive piece of art.
Being a sucker for awesome cover art, I was immediately drawn to Alcest's new, third album: Even More French Words. I was a fan of frontman/lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Neige's first full-length, and his second effort had some great moments as well so this was a release I didn't want to miss.
For those that aren't familiar with Alcest, listening to the band is like being in a ethereal dream, and Les Voyages is no different. It's the kind of music you put on and get lost in. The other day I was driving through town and happened to have my windows down. I must not have been aware of how loud this album was turned up, because when I was stopped at a red light, the guy in the car next to me kept staring. I guess echoic french lyrics, sung over a dreamy wall of guitar tones isn't something he was familiar with. Then again, it's not something I'm used to listening to, either. Most tracks I put on are doom and gloom, or some technical mish-mash of blistering guitars and drums. It's a tad refreshing (and strange) to put on some music that is really intended to immerse it's listeners in beauty.
Alcest was originally a black metal group, but after two members left, it became Neige's solo work. He took a personal approach to it and transformed it's sound into something truly unique. Les voyages de l'âme (The Journeys of The Soul) is a continuation of his trademark sound, but it also marks some progress for quasi-solo act. Neige maintains Alcest's traditional atmosphere but adds a few touches I most definitely approve of. Most notably, the dynamics this time around are a bit more stark in contrast. Take for instance, the first track - Autre Temps. The song nearly grinds to a halt at one point, but comes back to life with a solid, minimalistic guitar part that could make a grown man weep. A lot of the tracks on this record drop off and then resuscitate themselves with some awesome entrance. It's breathtaking. However, I wouldn't say Alcest fits the Post-rock category. They are a bit more centered around structure, and when they go between climaxes and mood-builders it is much more abrupt - akin to hitting a switch, rather than turning a dial up. It's a really nice addition, and sort of resets the listener's attention span (which is bound to wander the dreamy landscape the songs paint) and gets you to really pay attention to what follows.
The sixth song, Faiseurs de Mondes, is my favorite and brings out Neige's Black Metal roots with some tasteful screams and beautiful instrumental passages to balance them out. Sure, Ecailles de Lune did that in the second part of its title track but it feels so much more epic (overused-word-alert) here. And how about that raspy wail that rises up during the chorus of La Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles" Fuckin' awesome. Once again, these little additions give the songs elements that are not only memorable, but necessary to punctuate and embellish the shoegaze-delivery of Alcest's signature wall-o-sound.
Speaking of walls of sound, I've heard some complain of a lack of bass, but I really don't see room for it. The mix is already so thick that to imagine changing it up would probably transform the feel of a lot of the songs. That's not to say the rhythm section is less important. The drums this time around are as solid as ever, with drummer Winterhalter showing off an uncanny knack for knowing just where to build things up and take them down again. I imagine that to work with a solo artist like Neige, you really have to be on the same page as them when it comes to making their expectations reality and Winterhalter would definitely embody that trait. It's awesome how he can take a blast beat and make it fit a style of sound so different than what they're typically used in.
As far as criticisms go, I don't have very many. It's the same old Alcest as ever, just a bit more refined and complete this time around. A further dive into unfamiliar territory could have pushed this album into the "Awesome" category for me, but as it stands, it's a solid piece of work. It would probably be little easier on the listener if the album had more interludes (Havens is the only one) or breaks in the "action". Because of its trance-inducing nature, I find sections of the album (especially the middle and last track) a tad too big and homogeneous to digest all at once. This record took a few more listens to get a good grip on then most albums I've listened to lately.
As a whole, Voyages is not a drastic change from Ecailles de Lune but represents the artist putting his finishing touches on carving his own place into the world of music. Next time though, I want Alcest to shake things up a bit more. Throw some curveballs and show us what else you got, Neige. Till then, I'll keep sharing your music one redlight at a time.
All in all, I give Les voyages de l'âme 3.5 French-English Dictionaries out of 5.