Benoît Pioulard: Précis

Transfixing is one way to describe Précis, the provocative debut album by Thomas Meluch under the alias Benoît Pioulard. Extending the captivating style of his Enge EP to a full-length format (or close to it, at least, with the album's 15 songs weighing in at a fleet 37 minutes), the Michigan-based producer weds deeply textured psychedelia with folk instrumentation and hushed vocals to hypnotic effect, especially when the results are drenched in a reverberant production style that significantly amplifies everything. Had it been presented in a conventional production style, “Triggering Back” would sound like a rather straightforward folk song of uplifting character; by saturating it with ethereal ambiance, Meluch dramatically heightens the song's impact. Treated similarly, a wholly unusual piano interlude like “Moth Wings” sounds as if it's been unearthed from some long-buried chamber, while the whispered vocals in “Alan & Dawn” seem to emanate from some other galaxy. Likewise, the picking in “Corpus Chant” is amplified so radically it's hard to tell whether the instrument in question (a dulcimer it turns out) is a harp, harpsichord, or guitar.

Meluch often creates tension by juxtaposing relatively conventional elements (vocals, acoustic guitars, melodies) with hazily churning backgrounds built from dense swarms of bells, tape samples, field recordings, and other noise (“Palimend,” “Needle & Thread,” “Sous la Plage”). Some songs are so brief (“Corpus Chant”), they're over the moment one becomes attuned to their strangeness while instrumentals like “Coup de Foudre” and “R Coloring” plunge the listener even more deeply into a disorienting sea. Meluch wastes no time in establishing the album's striking character either, as illustrated by the shimmering lattices that slowly swell into a crushing drone of industrial thrum in the overture “La Guerre de Sept Ans.” Here and elsewhere, Précis reveals Meluch to be a remarkable sonic alchemist.

November 2006