2 out of 5
Label: Murailles Music
Produced by: Eric Chenaux, Cyril Harrison
I listen to plenty of acquired taste-required music. I can’t really look down my noise at people who might not feel it, and, in fact, I probably would start out by expecting them not to. With outre stuff, I think discussing its pros and cons is better limited to those who already find it appealing.
Reading reviews of experimental guitarist Eric Chenaux’s other albums, as well as Say Laura, it’s very clear that there are fans of this, and I can’t say I quite acquired the taste. If I’m going the opposite way and looking down my nose at the appreciators, I’d draw some lines between reviews where I don’t see much distinction between albums, or any particular praise of, specifically, the instrumentation or the lyrics – it’s more just, like, this stuff is off-kilter but very soothing, and if it’s your bag, it’s your bag.
But if I try to stand up straight and look the fans eye to eye (and I’m pretty short, so I probably have to get down off my soapbox for that looking-down-my-nose business), I’m positive I’m just cherry-picking, and overlooking nuance that’s surely there. After all, while not having acquired the taste per se, there are some things I like on Say Laura – quite a bit, actually – more than other things, so if there’s diversity intra-album, I’d believe there’s the same between releases.
When I was younger, there was a period where I couldn’t listen to traditional “songs;” my ears required a bit of chaos. That leant itself to some extreme noise, but eventually I found that there was a more gentle version of this as well – the loose, wandering experimentations of someone like Richard Youngs for example. Chenaux leans more toward light jazz or even twee touches over Youngs’ folk and rock influences, but the open-ended structure is there. However, just as all-out noise provided a grounding in a way – there’s always something going on – even Youngs’ most oblique stuff had a similar grounding. Chenaux, on the other hand, feels like the bleary-eyed nigh-improv approach as applied to everything – the music, the lyrics, the singing. Because he sings in a falsetto and the music rarely rises above slow and sleepy, I get how it can be soothing, and probably in the same way I found noise “soothing;” but for my ears, the all-in loosey-goosiness of this just leaves me completely adrift at points – those points being when Eric’s attentions drift and he’s barely singing, and barely playing; the stuff is just above stillness and silence. And unfortunately – for me – that is a good majority of the record.
Though not all of it. While I can’t get much out of Eric’s lyrics (cowritten by Ryan Driver, who contributes Wurlitzer to the recording) – they’re rather word-association-y, where those associations are often lovestruck ones – the babbling stream of Chenaux’s voice, combined with a similar rumbling pluck of guitars or light electronic additions is soothing when it’s all in motion; it’s rather mesmerizing, actually, almost drone-like. Opener Hello, How? and Hey. functions in this mode for most of its runtime, and once you know what to expect, it’s quite beautiful, in its fashion. But almost all of the other tracks drift towards the other style, peaking briefly at the end of New Rhythm and the beginning of the title track, amounting to only a small fraction of the entire runtime. (And more evidence of my preference for this is that the edit of track Say Laura, included with the digital, strips out all the navel-gazing and is on par with the opener, whereas the full version… tends toward snooze.)
That hint of enjoyment allows me to accept that ears of other discernment will appreciate the rest of the album. How it stacks up to Chenaux’s other works I can’t say, and probably won’t be exploring, but I’m glad I took the time to explore this record, perhaps expanding my tastes just that little bit more.