Right about now, I am pretty certain that you are all feeling the chill bite at your fingertips and cold snapping at your feet. Therefore, I implore you to not preoccupy yourself by heading out into town and procuring the latest batch of Christmas presents for your family and friends. Instead stay in, in the warm and treat your ears to some good music.
Because I like to practice what I preach, that is exactly what I am doing now. This week, I have had the pleasure of lending my critical ear to an offering from Montreal. The very talented singer/composer/visionary Olivier Alary has produced some very fine and sophisticated music in the guise of Ensemble and here, we are exposed to some magnificent examples with the tracks that are present on the latest album ‘Excerpts’.
Think of this style of music, if you will, a walk around a European, or indeed French-Canadian metropolitan conurbation. I am certain that the sounds, music wise, emanating from each bistro, restaurant, bar and of course home will seem a lot like this album. Ensemble seamlessly blends that classical orchestration that is so welcome to the ears and intersperses it will relevant, current and contemporary songwriting.
The first track, simply titled ‘Opening’ is more akin to the awakening of the album. Just as an orchestra must warm up at the beginning of a performance, so must this album gradually spark into life. ‘Things I forget’ manages to maintain a bittersweet balance of the sublime violin, brass and waltz-like melody and crestfallen and melancholy lyrics that are softly projected by delightful female vocal.
‘Le saisons venniant’ is one of those songs that manages to be fantastically charming whilst all the while remaining rather unnerving with a disjointed guitar melody with what seems like backtracking violin and accordion. ‘En attendant l’orage’ conjures up images of a bygone story of romance, love and devotion that has been locked in history by musical folklore. It seems haunting but very tuneful and listenable. ‘November 22nd’ is a sweet musical interlude, but that is all that it is.
Listening to ‘Mirages’ further locks the fact of what Ensemble is trying to achieve with ‘Excerpts’. Each track seems like snapshots of the artists life, of the history of where they live, that will forever be etched on their mind as well as their music.
The start of the title track ‘Excerpts’ alleviates the sombre atmosphere and throws in a welcome and warming song that could easily be applied to a romantic dance in the moonlight. However, Ensemble keeps our feet firmly on the ground by peppering the melody with one or two sour notes.
The shrill beginning of ‘Valse des objets trouves’ paints a rather foreboding picture of what this track may be like. However, although it has Ensembles charactisic unnerving touch to it, it still maintains some intruigue. However, it does sound out of place on the album and could possibly construed as detrimental and unnecessary.
‘Imprints’ is a wonderful sweet and tragic ballad. This is where Olivier Alary proves his mettle and displays a truly beautiful and thoughtful track that many acts and artists should take note of. Ensemble is all about the talent and not the posturing that seems abundant in the musical world. ‘Envies d’avalanches’ sees Alary tipping his hat to the enchanting use of instruments by such bands as Radiohead and Goldfrapp as he mixes a furious acoustic guitar melody with electronic musical experimentalism. This is, without a doubt one of my standout tracks from ‘Excerpts’.
Ensemble leaves us to ponder what we have just heard with the final track ‘Before Night’. Listening to this song makes me imagine that I am watching one of those quintessential poignant scenes from a West End musical. You may think of that idea as predictable and contrived but in ‘Excerpts’ it works spectacularly well and lets Alary ply his talent to his fullest extent. Please, do yourself a favour and educate you ears with this album, it is more than completely worth it.
Words : Barclay Quarton