All things come to those who wait, and in the case of Christopher Porpora waiting has been a substantial part of his career under the moniker of Cheval Sombre. It took 10 years for his debut album to see the light of day, thanks in part to the intervention of ex-Galaxie 500 chap Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (Luna) who offered to put that album out on their own label.
Fortunately the gap between his debut and Mad Love hasn’t been anywhere near a decade, but Mad Love is still an album that’s been worth waiting for. Once again Porpora is aided by a raft of contemporaries. Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser of MGMT appear on She Went Walking In The Rain, whilst Wareham and Phillips make their presence felt, the Dreampop tones of their Warhol/Velvets inspired album 13 Songs providing an obvious reference point for Mad Love. The most obvious influence however comes from co-producer Pete Kember (or Sonic Boom if you prefer), as it the drifting cosmic drones of Spacemen 3 that most closely resemble Cheval Sombre’s murky, yet intense tones.
Thematically, Mad Love is about precisely what the title implies. Based on a series of letters written from a German asylum by schizophrenic Emma Hauck to her husband, it’s fair to say that this is an album that at times can be almost oppressively downbeat as it examines the more hurtful aspects of love. Porpora quite often finds his languid vocal drawl at the centre of a series of mournful, wispy, songs that are heavily tinged not only with that familiar Spaceman 3 cosmic drone, but also with folk and blues influences. February Blues for example is, as you would expect, a washed out blues that sounds not unlike a spectral take on the introduction to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. It’s this haunted aspect that sets the tone for the album, so even when Mad Love is covering some of the more pleasurable aspects of relationships, as on opener Someplace Else, the tortured organ and rattling percussion give a depressive atmosphere from the off.
Although MGMT feature on She Went Walking In The Rain their presence is hardly overbearing, or indeed even noticed. This melancholic ballad smoulders beautifully thanks mainly to the layers of atmospheric feedback and gentle electronic swells over a sweetly strummed acoustic lament. It is perhaps the finest moment on album filled with delicate tales of sadness.
Beneath the obvious Dreampop/Shoegaze influence, there’s more than a tinge of folk to Cheval Sombre, and this is evidenced in the cover of the standard Once I Had A Sweetheart which takes the original and bends it into an ethereal swirling hymn complete with groaning seasonally flavoured strings. Porpora’s vocal line manages to hang over the song like a ghost, disassociated yet utterly involved, as if continually returning to the past in order to make some kind of sense of it all. Once I Had A Sweetheart is one of three cover versions here, the others being The Nearness Of You and Red Moon, but it’s with Sweetheart that he really grabs the blueprint and makes it into something stunning.
The colossal droning expanse of Couldn’t Do perhaps best sums up Mad Love. A continually evolving amalgam of influences and sonic oddities, it slowly creeps into the subconscious, unsettling and calming as it works its magic. The trance like state it provokes is not the most comfortable admittedly, but then love is not always an easy ride. It can be a dream, and these songs definitely exist in a dream world, but dreams can become nightmares pretty quickly. Porpara understands this and frequently strikes the balance between, although he frequently ends up lamenting the sorrow of it all.