Melodium: Palimpse
Symbolic Interaction

Undoubtedly the most striking thing one first notices about Laurent Girard's latest Melodium release, Palimpse, is that it couples ten tracks of modest duration with an eleventh that tips the scales at twenty-eight minutes. It's as if the release conjoins two separate projects, one filled with bite-sized morsels and the other a giant-sized meal. For whatever reason, the material was recorded at his Nantes home between November 2006 and February 2007 but is only seeing the light of day now. No matter: Melodium fans will lap it up, as Girard demonstrates that his melodic talents are in as good a shape as ever. As always, his distinctive and recognizable composer's voice comes through in the melancholy guitar (acoustic and electric), glockenspiel, and piano melodies that thread throughout his electronically assembled vignettes. Regardless of their differences, his songs exude a breeziness and wistfulness that give them great appeal (something heard to great effect in this recording's “Landscapes,” for example).

The titles of the opening songs trigger immediate associations, though the songs' contents accomplish much the same. Sounds of wartime and a French speaking voice extend the meaning intimated by “Bombs,” while simulated animal chatter and acoustic guitars suggest a setting tinged with magic during “In the Forest at Night.” In truth, the songs are so appealing that they don't need to be dressed up with excess detail; the piano and violin etude is already affecting enough in “German Voice” that the murmuring voice isn't needed, and the layers of fuzz draped across the delicate guitar picking in “Endless Guitare” more obscure the song's simple beauty than enhance it. But all such matters recede in significance when the album's episodic epic “Insomnia” appears. After a funereal opening which pairs brooding cello and piano motifs (a ticking watch audible faintly in the distance), the piece grows more plaintive, until everything drops away except for overlapping French horn and trombone tones. Soon after, a stately cello pattern appears, other strings join in, and a flute-like keyboard adds its own Glass-like voice. Needless to say, at this juncture the piece is fully awake, and the segues from one passage to the next seem to occur more frequently. But then a retiring mood sets in, with “Insomnia” slowly retreating into darkness before fizzling out. Not to denigrate the material preceding it, but the final piece casts such a large shadow over the rest of the album, it can't help but be the most memorable thing about it.

March 2010