Ensemble: Ensemble
FatCat Records

Montreal-based Olivier Alary follows his recent Disown, delete EP with this equally arresting full-length, as distinguished a marriage of acoustic and electronic elements as you're likely to hear. It's the compositional quality, however, that impresses most: dramatic explorations that segue between entwined vocal and instrumental passages with natural ease. Vocal texture is a key Ensemble characteristic, something Alary explores throughout in his choice of vocalists and in his propensity for vocal pairings: he partners with Mileece to entrancing effect on the breezy opener “Summerstorm” and pairs with Camille Claverie on the grandiose “Loose.” Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr) adds his whispered croon to the slow-burning “One Kind Two Minds,” his voice almost buried under the guitar fuzz, electronic noise, and orchestration gradually swelling around it. Alary reprises the languorous “Disown, delete” from the EP and the song, a lulling meditation crowned by Chan Marshall's haunting vocal, loses none of its power here. The album's nicely paced too, with atmospheric vignettes (“Still,” “Unrest”) breaking the contemplative flow and extended pieces (the 10-minute symphonic epic “Loose”) allowing song sections ample time to develop. One caveat: given that the album is already a succinct 44 minutes, I would rather have heard another song at the end instead of six minutes of faint chords and seashore sounds (“For Good”). Certainly a distinctive collection nonetheless.

October 2006