Album Reviews

Yann Tiersen – Dust Lane

(Mute) UK release date: 11 October 2010

Yann Tiersen - Dust Lane French musician and composer Yann Tiersen is nothing if not avant-garde. Though perhaps best known for the accordion-driven French folk fare of 2001’s Amélie score, the classically trained multi-instrumentalist has dabbled in minimalism, post-rock and ambient music too.

His last album proper – 2005’s Les retrouvailles – betrayed the Brittany-born composer’s growing tendency towards Anglophonic tastes, featuring, as it did, the likes of Cocteau Twins‘ muse Elizabeth Fraser and Tindersticks front man Stuart A Staples. Fast-forward five years and the transformation is complete: Dust Lane, Tiersen’s sixth studio album, is sung entirely in English.

The LP’s opening salvo is bereft of the distinctly Gallic flourishes that have hitherto characterised Tiersen’s trademark sound: Amy blossoms from acoustic strumming, rim tapping and ethereal whispers into the kind of soaring synth sing-alongs long associated with Canadian indie collective Broken Social Scene. A result, perhaps, of the input of producer Ken Thomas (Sigur Rós, M83, Moby).

Not that he forbids French trappings entirely. The title track of the album, recorded at Tiersen’s home in Brittany, takes up maudlin piano minimalism on its way to a dark call-and-response between the same computerised female and distorted male voices that marked Air‘s utterly distinctive How Does It Make You Feel.

Dust Lane’s theme, indeed, has a touch of European solemnity about it. At just seven tracks long, its mission is to explore themes of mortality; a task coloured – or perhaps prompted – by the loss of Tiersen’s mother and a close friend during recording, revealing parallels with the likes of Arcade Fire‘s Funeral or Elbow‘s The Seldom Seen Kid.

It is no surprise, then, to find tracks like Dark Stuff, a brooding, melancholic crescendo that veers from chaotic to ponderous and back again, or Palestine, a crashing call to arms in which the title is spelled out over and over. It is a measure of Yann’s deft-handedness, certainly, that he is able to patch such sweeping contrasts into a cohesive whole in the context both of individual songs and of the album itself.

And while Chapter 19 truly represents Dust Lane in microcosm – being, as it is, an understandably bleak and sombre spoken word slow burner – it is with Ashes that the album finds its courage: commencing with ominous key strikes, it grows tentatively into a vintage, organic soundscape that encapsulates perfectly the tender shoots of acceptance, reflection and celebration in the aftermath of bereavement. It is, without doubt, the LP’s outstanding moment.

And such reconciliation, of course, leaves breathing space for something less heavyhearted. Cue Fuck Me, a knowing nursery rhyme that seems to update Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress for the 21st Century: “I know, you know, we’re all falling into a deep oblivion,” sings Tiersen happily, before the joyous choral refrain of “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me / Make me come again” eventually becomes “Love me, love me, love me, love me / Make me love again.” It’s curiously affecting, and entirely endearing.

Dust Lane, though, is at times a touch inaccessible – despite the universality of the themes explored – and may well prove slightly remote to those hitherto unfamiliar with Tiersen and his work. It remains, however, another pillar of his talent, his versatility and, more than ever before, his humanity.

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