Ensemble: Disown, delete

What an absolutely magnificent teaser for Olivier Alary's upcoming Ensemble disc, scheduled for release in the fall. Featuring three songs by the Montreal-based musician plus a Tim Hecker remix, the EP is also distinguished by the presence of Cat Power (Chan Marshall) on the bewitching ‘orchestral folk' title song. The release has been a long time coming for the France-born Alary who issued the first Ensemble album, Sketch Proposals in 2000 on Rephlex and subsequently collaborated with Björk (he co-wrote Medulla's “Desired Constellation”). The EP shows that Alary's desire to merge symphonic density with intimate folk-pop vocal songs has been fabulously realized.

The languorous meditation “Disown, delete” is especially beautiful. Alary embeds Cat Power's pleading whisper in a gently unfurling cloud of guitars, her voice calm yet also rife with tension. When the song escalates in volume and density, its guitars and electronics massing together to a point of near-combustion, the vocal likewise turns increasingly desperate. The effect is powerful and made even more so by the song's elusive tone—becalmed at one moment, anguished the next. With strings layered over tremolo guitar shudders and an echoing percussive crack, the more aggressive “Carmine” commands attention for its instrumental distinctiveness and subsequently the vocal pairing of Camille Claverie and Alary; the piano ballad “Their lines” unites the two again in equally effective though more delicate manner. At the disc's close, Tim Hecker contributes a predictably hypnotic remix of “Disown, delete” where vocals are reduced to barely audible sighs and the piece itself transformed into a mesmerizing mass of soft tinkles and spectral haze.

The 20-minute EP is over quickly but not so fast that an incontrovertible impression of the material's exceptional quality isn't established. Though only the title song is reprised on the album, Disown, delete still holds great promise for the album.

September 2006