Despite the confusing moniker, Ensemble is the work of one man, Olivier Alary. Alary keeps good company, with Lou Barlow and Cat Power lending their vocals to his self titled debut, while Bj�rk enlisted his writing skills for her album Medulla. This time he’s taken to the mic himself, and guest vocals come courtesy of long-term collaborator Darcy Conroy. Less high profile then, but his trademark blissed-out Franco-pop doesn’t suffer for it.
The names Matthew Herbert and Serge Gainsbourg are bandied around him but Ensemble’s latest effort has more than a hint of Stereolab about it. A bilingual record, both singers flit between French and English, something French-born Alary puts down to his living in Montreal. But it’s not just the lyrics that sing in different languages; Excerpts is a beautifully eccentric album with bold orchestral sounds slapped over an ever-present electric hum.
A wall of sound opens the record before Things I Forget announces the album’s start. Alary clearly believes there’s no sense in saving the best til last; it’s unmistakably an album opener, a dawn song, but its freshness, coupled with a blend of haunting electronica and an old fashioned waltz, make it stand out. Pizzicato strings flutter around Conroy’s seductive, breathy voice, an effect that’s only matched a couple of times across the rest of the album.
En Attendant L’orage sees Alary tackle vocals on a track closer to what we’ve come to expect of musicians from his adopted hometown. A rattling, bassy slice of post-rock, it’s clean and neat but the booming drums, driving guitar and underlying sense of gloom push it towards shoegaze territory. Like the rest of the album it’s elegant and well-considered. Arty and very precise; something made more impressive by the fact that Alary used almost no software or sampling when crafting Excerpts.
Skipping between languages allows Alary to emphasise the themes he played with when writing Excerpts. He taps into what he refers to as: “The confusion of real memories and fictional ones. Of our yearning for an idealised era that we never lived in, for beautiful places that we’ve never been to.” By switching voices and languages, and throwing in string quartets alongside swooning electronica, he pushes different versions of reality, and while on the whole it slips into background noise, there are moments when Excerpts packs a punch. And there’s plenty to capture a more vivid and patient imagination.