Ensemble Economique: Blossoms in Red
Denovali Records

Blossoms in Red, Brian Pyle's latest Ensemble Economique outing (the Californian's eleventh album and fourth Denovali release, incidentally), plays more like an EP than the thirty-six-minute mini-album that it is. It's that rare case of a rather fragmented recording that would achieve greater coherence were two or three additional pieces added to fill in the seams. That it's somewhat lacking in cohesiveness doesn't, however, cancel out the pleasures it offers; it just means that the five pieces presented don't connect as seamlessly as they would were more parts included.

Pyle's an eclectic soul whose stylistic taste runs the gamut, and the settings on the release present five prismatic portraits reflecting their creator's open-ended sensibility. Guest appearances by Peter Broderick, J Moon, and Portland electronic duo Soft Metals on three (separate) pieces also help extend the project's boundaries into boldly contrasting terrain.

On the first run-through, the opening “From the Train Window, Red Flowers on the Mountain” hints that Blossoms in Red might be wholly dedicated to synthesizer-heavy ambient-drone pieces, but it eventually becomes clear that it's the only one of the five tracks to adhere to that style, strictly speaking. Regardless, it inaugurates the recording on a restrained yet nonetheless brooding note, with Pyle's austere sound design scaled back to the minimum for eight minutes. The advent of the title track brings with it a marked change in style, with the focus shifting to slow-motion shoegaze and the skies filling, like a murder of crows, with swarms of electric guitars and synth washes while a simple programmed drum pattern holds things together underneath. Broderick joins Pyle for “On the Sand,” a cryptic blues dirge animated by a fuzzy bass pulse, slowcore drumming, curdling guitars, and a spoken stalker vocal so hoarse and exhausted it's impossible to know whether it's Broderick or Pyle who's the one responsible. The dirge tempo remains in place for “You, By Candlelight,” though this time with J Moon aboard, the result a piece whose combination of funereal moodscaping and female vocalizing adds a rather Portishead-like quality to the material. At disc's end, “Nothing is Perfect” re-establishes the instrumental focus with an evocative combination of classical piano playing and field recording samples of crashing waves.

In the final analysis, perhaps too much shouldn't be made of the differences between the tracks, considering that they're bonded by the sensibility of their creator, not to mention the fact that a slow tempo is common to all. Even so, it's hard not to notice the individuating differences between them, though that doesn't make the recording any less interesting as a result.

November 2015