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Sun Stabbed, "Des lumières, des ombres, des figures"

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cover imageI have not heard anything from this French duo since 2008's The World Upside-Down, but their gently roiling and shimmering guitar drone made a big impression on me.  On this, their first full-length vinyl release, Pierre Faure and Thierry Monnier caught me a bit off-guard by taking a much more minimal and much less overtly musical approach.  It definitely took me a while to warm to these changes, as their new arsenal of buzzes, hums, and whirs does not offer much in the way of immediacy, melody, or rhythm. However, there is still quite a lot to like here, as Sun Stabbed have made some significant creative progress over the last few years– it just takes some faith and patience to appreciate it.

Doubtful Sounds

The most notable aspect of this album is that Faure and Thierry rarely use their guitars in the way they are intended to be used, opting to avoid almost anything resembling a clearly picked/fretted note or chord.  The opening piece, "Les terre avec des bruits," is probably as traditional as Sun Stabbed ever get on the album, as it is built upon a bed of distorted, metallic drones and subtly quivering feedback.   It at least sounds like it is emanating from some guitars.  That bed of quavering tones is essentially all there is though, aside from some occasional finger scrapes:  the meat of the piece is simply the oscillations caused by the gently shifting harmonies.  The next piece, "Ce petit monde en dérive," raises the volume and the dissonance a bit, but the biggest difference is that the feedback is allowed to snarl and break-up a bit amidst a backdrop of quasi-industrial creaks, clicks, and hisses.  Then, around the midpoint, an actual melodic figure appears: a submerged-sounding lattice of bell-like tones.  Unexpectedly, it even sticks around for the remainder of the piece, struggling to stay audible beneath a cacophony of guitar noise and a host of other sounds that resemble processed machine noises and pneumatic doors.  Bizarrely, there are also some occasional snippets that sound like a calliope buried in the mix.  No significant progression occurs before it winds to a close, but the constantly shifting balance between the various components is rather engaging.

The second half of the album begins with "La fin, on l’a deviné," which combines crackling and swooping noises in a way that approximates a roomful of malfunctioning short-wave radios.  Again, some ruined-sounding guitar shimmer and calliope periodically drift through the static-y, garbled fog.  Notably, it also sounds like someone begins playing an actual note with a pick for the first time on the record, but it is just one note insistently repeated and tensely bent to create dissonant oscillations with the surrounding hum.  The fourth and final song on the album, "Les sociétés secrètes et leur agissements," begins nicely with some layered droning guitar snarl and an ugly low-end throb.  It is difficult to tell what else is happening, but I am pretty sure that someone begins amplifying power tools, like perhaps a power-sander or a saw.  It's a very neat effect, as the harsh grinding sounds provide an uncomfortable counterbalance to the increasingly turbulent guitar droning beneath them and even form an uneven pulse of sorts.  The piece continues to deftly shift for the rest of its duration, cohering into a stuttering rumble that is regularly rended by periodic squawks of guitar noise or jarring powertool grinding.  It's definitely the strongest piece on the album, but it should be noted that it is not particularly new, having surfaced before on the out-of-print Inner End of the Coils compilation (Nothing Out There) in 2009.

If this had been the first Sun Stabbed release that I had heard, I probably would not have paid close enough attention to it to enjoy it all that much.  These guys certainly aren't the first folks to focus their attention on all of the electric guitar's peripheral sounds (fingers sliding along a string, amplifier hum, feedback, pick-up noise, etc.), but they are pretty uniquely skilled at ingeniously harnessing and sculpting those sounds into something vibrant and compelling.  However, a great deal of this record's success lies in my being drawn in by the mysteries of the process.  As such, Des lumières, des ombres, des figures has somewhat limited appeal despite its imaginative and skillful execution: Pierre and Thierry completely eschew any kind of melodic development or progression here in favor of tension and texture.  This is an impressive work, but it is a hard one to love–I still very much prefer The World Upside-Down.  Nevertheless, this release is a very promising development.  A few more concessions like melody or warmth would be welcome, but it is hard to fault a band for boldly and skillfully testing the limits of their sound.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 April 2011 04:22  


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