Album Reviews

Etienne Jaumet – Night Music

(Versatile) UK release date: 7 December 2009

Etienne Jaumet’s Night Music is nothing to fall asleep to, despite what its song titles imply. Analogue synths abound throughout Jaumet’s slow-burning fever dreams, and each track presents itself as an integral part of the whole, broadening the expanse of the album’s unsettling nightscape.

On his first solo album, Jaumet (of Zombie Zombie) contemplates a new interpretation of what happens to the mind between sunset and sunrise. The album, for all its looped bass lines and hypnotic rhythm parts, is rife with discord. A cackle is heard in the distance, birds chirp, but not pleasantly, and throughout it all, Jaumet demonstrates an impressive degree of restraint.

Opening with the 20-minute epic For Falling Asleep, Jaumet lays out his intentions from the beginning. Sounds loop, building on one another, and in turn they are manipulated to unrecognisable states. Midway through, a saxophone plays dreamily as if through the fog under a film noir streetlamp. Through all the subtle building and tearing down, Jaumet’s patience is paramount, as he allows each sound to deteriorate of its own volition before revealing a new layer. Sax lines arpeggio and reverberate only to collapse into decay. Even the brief string interlude that closes the song is not allowed to be simply lovely; it too is washed with uncertainty.

Mental Vortex, the nearest Night Music comes to being truly danceable, features velvety analogue bass runs over a click and clack drum loop. As synth layers build here, it’s impossible not to be reminded of I Robot era Alan Parsons Project stuff. But, Jaumet comes across as ultimately more intelligent, and infinitely less pop-oriented, in a good way.

Entropy does exactly as its name implies, setting a bass riff in motion from the outset and allowing it to continue, reacting to opposing forces, bouncing and meandering through the night sky like a star that has burned out long ago, but continues to fall towards the distant horizon.

Most unsettling is Through The Strata, fused with Middle Eastern sensibilities and a genuine madhouse soundscape. Demon birds (not unlike those on The Beatles‘ Tomorrow Never Knows) chirp crazily, invading some measures with an unshakeable sense of manic melancholy. The synth lead sounds a bit like a band saw run through a vocoder, and the final decrescendo is one into dripping, cavernous silence.

The night-journeying theme comes full circle with At The Crack Of Dawn, bringing back Jaumet’s un-lullaby sax work, riffing and harmonizing through a repetitive lower register run. The loops here, though, have the sort of majestic quality one associates with the rising sun: a slow-motion return to daylight after such a troubling period of unwanted wakefulness.

Throughout, Night Music is accented above all by Jaumet’s unique ability to build up a sound and allow it to tear itself down. This is not an album to sleep to, but it is also not necessarily an album to dance to. Instead, Night Music is the sort of album that demands an active listener, that brings all those lurkers in the lobby of the mind into full view.

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Etienne Jaumet – Night Music