Oiseaux-Tempête: ÜTOPIYA?
Sub Rosa

Oiseaux-Tempête's sophomore collection ÜTOPIYA? picks up where its late-2013 self-titled predecessor left off, though this time with bass clarinetist Gareth Davis in tow. Spearheaded by multi-instrumentalists Frédéric D. Oberland and Stéphane Pigneul (members of both Farewell Poetry and Le Réveil des Tropiques) and drummer Ben McConnell (Beach House and Marissa Nadler), the sixty-six-minute release offers a comprehensive portrait of the group's musical range and interests.

Inspired by a 2013 trip to Greece that found Oiseaux-Tempête witnesses to political upheaval and strife, the album encompasses politically charged pieces sprinkled with voice samples and instrumental rave-ups heavy on electric guitar, mellotron, piano, alto sax, dukar, and field recordings. Recorded live to tape in Lyon in March 2014, the material includes explorative sound collages that feel carefully stitched together as well as others, such as “Soudain Le Ciel,” that play like molten improvs birthed from bass clarinet, electric guitar, bass, and drums. Middle Eastern and English voices intersect in cinematic settings that evoke tension-filled sojourns to Istanbul and Sicily.

There's certainly no shortage of scenic material on offer. We set sail on a rather bruising note with “Omen: Divided We Fall,” a lugubrious slice of raw instrumental rock inflamed by guitar playing and Davis's keening wail, after which The Ex's G.W. Sok recites poetry by Nazim Hikmet against an incendiary backdrop during “Ütopiya / On Living.” Slavoj Zizek's unmistakable voice surfaces at the beginning of “Portals of Tomorrow” before the tune enters guitar-fueled freak-out mode. On the quieter tip is “Aslan Sütü (Santé, Vieux-Monde!),” a late-night meditation sprinkled with tremolo guitar and crickets that emphasizes the band's capacity for moodscaping.

The album's longest track, the twenty-two-minute live rave-up “Palindrome Series,” parts company with the others in being a thunderous meltdown the group laid down with Karel Doing (that's him on 16mm projector) at église Saint-Merry, Paris in September 2014 as an original soundtrack for a cinema performance. To be honest, the playing on this jaw-dropper roars with such seething intensity, it makes what precedes it sound polite by comparison. Kaleidoscopic by design, ÜTOPIYA? certainly provides an in-depth overview of the outfit's concerns, and given the evidence at hand, a double bill concert series featuring Oiseaux-Tempête and The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble would seem to be the most natural thing in the world.

July-August 2015