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Elodie, "Vieux Silence"

cover imageFor their latest album, the duo of Andrew Chalk and Timo van Luijk (Af Ursin) take an unexpected detour from their impressive run of limited self-released albums for an appearance on Stephen O'Malley’s eclectic Ideologic Organ imprint. To honor this auspicious occasion, the core line-up is fleshed out with returning collaborators Tom James Scott and Jean Noël Rebilly, as well as pedal steel guitarist Daniel Morris. In all other respects, however, Vieux Silence is every bit a traditional Elodie album, unfolding as a flickering impressionist dream that seems to emanate from a time and place totally unlike our own. As an album, it does not necessarily tower above the rest of Elodie's consistently fine oeuvre, but the title piece might be the single most achingly gorgeous piece that Chalk and van Luijk have recorded together to date.

Ideologic Organ

As a longtime Andrew Chalk fan, I am hesitant to describe the collaboration of Elodie as greater than the sum of its parts, yet something transcendent undeniably occurs when Chalk and van Luijk get together.To some degree, I can see shades of Chalk's tender and quietly beautiful drone-based aesthetic and hints of Af Ursin's shadowy and chameleonic otherworldliness on Vieux Silence, but it feels like such an uncannily seamless blurring of styles that neither artist seems to be steering the ship.At their best, it feels like this album is a séance and Elodie are channeling some kind of gorgeous and languorous music from the spirit realm.The opening "La Vallée du Sommeil" is a perfect example of such a feat, as its simple and heavenly synth melody seems to vaporously float through a patina of tape hiss like smoke.The best reference point that I can conjure is that it resembles what Angelo Badalamenti would probably sound like if he were suddenly taken by The Spirit and started composing rapturous hymns to God rather than collaborating with David Lynch.In fact, the brief piece ("Corridor") that follows even resembles an organ hymn, though Rebilly's bittersweet, breathy clarinet melodies inject a bit more soul and harmonic complexity than normally found in such fare.That aesthetic of soulful, unhurried, and simple beauty veiled in a thin fog of unreality reaches its apex with the title piece though, which dreamily pulses and weaves an absolutely gorgeous fantasia of warm chords, gently cascading arpeggios, and a repeating snatch of ghostly vocal melody.It kind of sounds like an achingly beautiful, slow-motion waltz enhanced by a haunted Victrola.

Even when they are not at their best, Elodie remain extremely damn good–the only real difference is simply that the illusion dissipates enough to feel like the work of human musicians with specific instruments playing planned compositions.For example, "La Nuit Voillée" is essentially a fluid and haunting pedal steel solo over a shifting bed of gently stuttering, melancholy chords."Au Point du Jour," on the other hand, sounds like some sort of missing link between modern classical and Volcano the Bear, blending a slowly tumbling and rippling minor key piano motif with a surreal backdrop of vocal moans, strange breath-generated textures, and some eerily strangled-sounding bird-like whistles.Later, "Le Temps d'Antan" essentially offers up its negative image: a radiant dawn dispelling all of the previous darkness with a lovely piano melody languorously wending its way through a quiet idyll of lingering reverb, soft breezes, and distant birds.After all of that elegantly blurred beauty and nuance, however, Vieux Silence nearly ends on bit of a perplexing forceful note, as "Entre Deux Mondes" introduces an ominous and cinematic-sounding string theme that feels like it could have come from just about any skilled soundtrack composer.Fortunately, it eventually segues into a wonderfully dreamlike and spectral finale ("La Saison Blanche") which feels like two indistinct, supernatural Theremin-like melodies slowly dancing and intertwining over an unpredictable bed of shifting chords and passing shadows of dissonance.

Unsurprisingly, the best pieces on Vieux Silence ("La Vallée du Sommeil" and "Vieux Silence") are the ones with the most gorgeous melodies, but the true brilliance of this project lies in the less tangible details. The most significant is probably the duo's talent for smoky, elusive-sounding textures, elegantly sidestepping the common peril of turning everything into a soft-focus, reverb-swathed blur.Instead, Elodie somehow make their melodies feel a beautiful half-remembered dream: strong and clear, yet still enigmatically obscured by haze and mist.A crucial corollary to that is Elodie's lightness of touch, a delicate balancing act that separates an achingly beautiful unreality from a mere suite of lovely chamber music.Elodie do not always fall on the right side of that equation here, admittedly, but the results are singularly sublime when they do manage to nail it (and I cannot think of many other artists who could even hit that target once).Less essential, yet still significant is the duo's surreptitious harmonic sophistication, as there are almost always shifting harmonic colors hovering all around the main theme and Chalk and van Luijk are not afraid to bring some fleeting shadow to their languorous heaven with flickers and undercurrents of dissonance.More succinctly put: there are some fine compositions here, but it is the masterful and nuanced execution that makes Vieux Silence something far deeper, more mysterious, more layered, and more movingly fragile than the quiet, warmly lovely melodies would otherwise suggest.