Album Reviews

Colleen – The Tunnel And The Clearing

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 21 May 2021

Colleen - The Tunnel And The Clearing Ever since first appearing back in 2003 the music of French electronic and ambient composer Cécile Schott (aka Colleen) has always been defined by a striking delicacy of application and lightness of touch, regardless of whatever particular instrumentation employed, creative approach followed or inspiration taken. 

Her early albums were characterised by a focus on looped sounds, whether derived from glockenspiel, cello or music boxes and she was to progress on to the baroque, gently droning sounds of the viola da gamba by the time she had released her third album, Les Ondes Silencieuses. Subsequent albums contained passing references to gamelan and kora, also incorporating muted percussion and, eventually, her own voice. Her last album, 2017’s A Flame My Love, A Frequency saw her work from her most overtly electronic palette yet, and it’s a direction further extended here on The Tunnel And The Clearing.

This latest album confirms how this steady graduation towards an electronic sound has been achieved without any of her earlier fragility or transparency being sacrificed. Schott revealed that the album was in part inspired by the break-up of a relationship and a soft, detached sadness is cast over much of the album. There are shades of Grouper to Revelation while the oscillating Implosion-Explosion could easily slot into any recent Julia Holter album without too many questions being asked. Schott describes it as a “homage to dub”, offering another reminder of her broader musical interests. 

Gazing At Taurus – Santa Eulalia was inspired by Schott’s current home city of Barcelona, specifically the statue of its patron saint perched on top of the city’s cathedral. Her own experiences of looking upwards to spot various constellations in the night sky also played a role and a suitably cosmic, refined feel also runs through the secretive sounding piece. The title track is constructed from fuzzy analogue synths meanwhile, illuminated pulses marking out the path ahead.

Hidden In The Current closes the album, suggesting the sound of deeply submerged underwater probes exploring the ocean floor and arguably the most immersive moment on the album. It offers an example also of how the album manages to have both piecemeal and cohesive qualities, also seeming to retain simultaneous connections to the past, current and future.

She might still exist somewhat on the periphery, but this is another instalment of quietly intriguing music, ornate and intricate, but also organic and alive. It’s good to inhabit her world once again.

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Colleen – The Tunnel And The Clearing