Album Reviews

Yann Tiersen – Skyline

(Mute) UK release date: 17 October 2011

Just a year since his last adventure, Yann Tiersen returns. He of that quirkily adorable Amelie soundtrack. He of those immersive live performances at festivals like Latitude. And while the tone of the lyrics gets darker, the music becomes more cheerful. Who’d have thought it? Like the master painter, Tiersen gets it spot on in this latest offering – a piece de resistance which makes any talk of Audrey Tautou’s music-to-be-charming-to redundant.

Another Shore is a window into Tiersen’s frighteningly beautiful construction. Bustling bells shuffle under an almost Interpol-esque minimalism to the acoustic guitar, before a stadium-worthy wall of noise rises from the machinery. It develops through a fantastic variations-on-a-theme structure, with each reimagining slightly more epic and upbeat than the last. Bass clarinet slinks around somewhere near the bottom, before a firework of extraterrestrial whistling launches into the next iteration.

There is philosophy in the composition. The metaphor of ‘Hesitation Wound’ – the pain of a something more sudden strung out during an extended period of uncertainty – is itself worthy of some kind of prize. Meanwhile, Tiersen explains new single I’m Gonna Live Anyhow as celebrating the simple pleasures in a life which you haven’t chosen to live. Deep merde, indeed. And yes, there is a cheery optimism afloat as vocal harmonies wash over a scratchy undercurrent of chattering synths. Not the obvious single choice, that’s for sure.

A more predictable one was Monuments, with a more obvious vocal structure to it. Oh, and this video by Ivan Rusev. Each sound is added one at a time, building the tower bit by bit. It’s a nice touch to stratify the hectic melee of musical layers before weaving them all together. When they’re all up and running, it’s difficult to tell just how complex the fabric is, such is the skill of the composition.

When Tiersen dives into someone else’s patch, he gives them a run for their money. The Gutter was produced by Ken Thomas, who worked with Sigur Rós on their () album, and there’s something highly reminiscent of Jonsi himself in the beautiful earnestness with which Tiersen warbles about trying to “reach the sea,” soaring over racing cymbal crashes.

At times it threatens to get a little too much for one sitting. Exit 25 Block 20’s twee melody over disconcerting barking sounds is pushing the limits of how bizarre the listener might be prepared to go, but the arrival of the bass and a more structured keyboard harmony lifts the tone drastically.

Yet even the most easily-disturbed listener couldn’t stay that way for long. Forgive Me offers a 6-minute-long romp of a pick-me-up, with a busy little line in percussion. Elsewhere, The Trial brings a quiet optimism on the xylophone, massaged with a cautious swell of strings. All this before breaking out into a purposeful slapped guitar and a stark juxtaposition of lyrical pessimism (“someday my girl, in your mirror//darling, you will face the trial”) over musical assuredness.

Whether sultry woodwind or jumping, over-plucked guitar, Tiersen’s experimentation with timbre is thorough and fruitful. The production of this album in so short a time is nothing short of miraculous, and listening to it is an experience to savour.

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More on Yann Tiersen
Yann Tiersen – Eusa
This Music Made Me: Yann Tiersen
Yann Tiersen – Infinity
Yann Tiersen @ Concorde 2, Brighton
Yann Tiersen – Skyline

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