Five years now separate Les hommes ne savent pas voler (issued on the Barcelona-based Musica Vermella net label), the first Ocoeur release by French electronic musician Franck Zaragoza, and Reversed, his third full-length outing on n5MD. During that time there have no doubt been changes, no matter how small or large, in his physical set-up, but one thing above all else has been in place since the beginning: in keeping with a moniker that, when altered to “au coeur,” translates into English as “to the heart,” Zaragoza's music has been marked by its focus on emotional expression. To his credit, production technology is and has never been used as a gratuitous end-in-itself but as a means by which to give that expression form.
In adhering to a consistently restrained set of moods, temperatures, and dynamics, Reversed locates itself at the bluer end of the emotional spectrum, with many tracks brooding and sombre in tone. Electronica, classical, and ambient-drone dimensions merge seamlessly in the productions, their at times icy surfaces warmed by acoustic piano. Outdoor field recordings are woven occasionally into the sound design to add character, and instrumental colour is enhanced by the inclusion of strings, percussion, and synthetic textures.
“Fixo” opens the album ponderously, with melancholy piano melodies draped across a chilly backdrop of meditative stillness; ponderous “Progression” might also be, but it's graced by a lovely dialogue between the piano and a solo violin, and the artful atmospheric entrancement Zaragoza fashions as a complement to their lead voices is a model of subtlety and nuance. Were one to increase the tempo of its beat pattern, “Timeless” would perhaps shake off its melancholy and appear high-spirited; as it is, the setting upholds the album's general tone.
In simplest terms, Reversed less signifies a radical departure in Zaragoza's approach as opposed to a natural refinement. Listeners enamoured of his previous releases and wanting more of the same should find the latest recording to their satisfaction, even if the overall mood is more melancholy than those that preceded it. Fixating on a single style can be risky: on the one hand, hewing to it ensures that the album will possess a cohesive and consistent character; the downside is that the recording can begin to feel too one-dimensional, claustrophobic even, when its material strays too little from a singular style. That said, there's also no disputing the prettiness of a track such as “Aside,” and the talent Zaragoza has for artful sound design is evident from start to finish.