Sylvain Chauveau: Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)
Type Recordings

It's been a rather long and winding road that's brought Sylvain Chauveau to the place he inhabits on Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated), his first ‘proper' full-length since the Depeche Mode tribute Down To The Bone of five years ago. The new collection might appear to be a natural sequel to that project, given that it too features songs built around a foundation of piano and vocals, but, in actual fact, the seven settings on Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) are hardly conventional songs. More precisely, the tracks are closer in spirit to explorative experimental material with vocals added rather than piano-and-vocal balladry of any familiar kind. If they're songs, they represent a bold re-imagining of what song form is, especially when, in place of verse-chorus structures, the pieces unfold according to a less predictable logic. Admittedly, hearing him undercut the normal expectations associated with the piano-and-vocal territory forms part of the music's appeal.

He'll no doubt grow weary of what I expect will be reviewers' repeated reference to David Sylvian in their assessments, but there's no denying how much Chauveau's singing resembles Sylvian's. Beyond that, however, it must be said that what Chauveau does with his voice is striking. Often he'll position the voice in different places within the stereo field so that phrases come at the listener from different points in space; the voice is even mutliplied in a couple of instances, and sometimes overlapped slightly. Complementing the vocals are minimal piano patterns of oft-pensive character. Chauveau elongates heavily treated chords—singular forms indeed—during “From Stone To Cloud” and elsewhere accompanies the piano with textural whirrs and clicks (“The Unbroken Line”) and mallet percussion (“Complexity of The Simple”). When vocals disappear (as they do during the opening minutes of “A Cloud of Dust” and the brief closer “I Ascended”), the material calls to mind the collaborations between Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto—how could it not when Chauveau pairs acoustic piano with electronic treatments and background textures. Of the album's seven settings, “A Cloud of Dust” impresses most of all, especially towards its end when the singing grows more impassioned in concert with an ever-intensifying backdrop of electronic materials.

Though the crystal clarity of Chauveau's singing provides one of the album's main pleasures, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)'s ‘cool' character makes it an album that one is less inclined to warm to and more inclined to appreciate. Imagine Sylvian emoting over an early microsound recording from the 12k-Line camp and you'll have a fair idea of what the album (mini-album more like, given its thirty-three-minute running time) sounds like.

April 2010