Benoît Pioulard: Temper

The sixteen songs comprising Temper, Thomas Meluch's latest Benoît Pioulard release, are shown on the backside of the CD package in two groupings, evoking the “side A-side B” dichotomy associated with the vinyl era. This seemingly minor detail may, perhaps, be significant after all, given the “out of time” character of the Benoît Pioulard sound. Though Temper might appeal to fans of Postal Service, DNTEL, and Magnetic Fields, it's closer in spirit to the music of Nick Drake, the English singer-songwriter who died in 1974 after releasing a trilogy of transcendent albums.

The suggestion isn't as far-fetched as it might seem: both artists sprinkle instrumentals in amongst their songs, opt for shorter rather than longer songs (Temper's sixteen total an extremely svelte thirty-eight minutes while Drake's Pink Moon weighs in at a mere twenty-eight), build a song from a vocal-and-acoustic guitar core and then supplement it with ornate instrumental touches (flute and viola, for starters, in Drake's case, harmonium and cello in Meluch's), and both craft introspective music that evokes memories of warm summer days in the countryside. Of course, the idea shouldn't be taken too far, and furthermore it'd be unfair to burden Meluch with comparisons to an adored legend. Musically, their styles, while similar in some respects, are completely different in others. The Benoît Pioulard sound, for one, is hazy compared to Drake's, with Meluch exploiting the “bedroom” production values that naturally arise when the material's recorded at home using analog source materials and basic software (“The Loom Pedal” and “Cycle Disparaissant” sound as if they were recorded, respectively, at the bottom of an empty silo and by the seaside using a single microphone). Even so, the Benoît Pioulard sound exudes a ‘60s vibe that's hard to deny.

Opening with the spirited swing of “Ragged Tint,” the album immediately pulls you into its alluring gothic-folk universe, something that only intensifies when the lush splendor of “Ahn” sets in. Indicative of the album's stylistic reach, the drone of harmonium and chanted vocals on “Modèle d'Éclat” briefly pushes the album into Eastern territory while Meluch's gifts for melody and song construction come to the fore during the roller-coaster waltz “Golden Grin” and jaunty “A Woolgathering Exodus.” If there's anything disquieting, it's the limited emotional expressivity of Meluch's singing. Yes, his pretty and soft-edged voice goes down easily but it so little strays beyond its singular style it starts to sound monochromatic as the album wears on. In toto, however, Temper registers as a lovely album and a more-than-credible follow-up to Précis. (A final note: gazing at the cupped hands displayed on the cover of this sophomore Benoît Pioulard full-length, I couldn't help but hear the opening line of Nick Drake's "Fly" echoing in the background: "Please give me a second grace...")

November 2008