Melodium appeared on the scene at the turn of the century and has been releasing music ever since. With nearly twenty releases to his credit, he’s begun to take inventory: to look back, reassess, and revisit his body of work. This process began with Lixiviat and Lixiviat 2, a pair of mini-discs that placed older material in newer clothes. Then came the self-explanatory Compilation 15 years, which included one track from each release. And now there’s Taramae, which was assembled in 2011 but contains material stretching back to 2000.
It would be easy to say that France’s Laurent Girard is seeking perspective, weighing his own work, finding some segments wanting and others worth preserving. Artists release retrospectives for various reasons: to gauge the distance traveled, to summarize a body of work before retiring, or to close a chapter before turning a new page. From the sound of Taramae, it appears that the reason is the latter, as the new album is unlike anything he’s ever released.
We’ve come to expect a few things from Melodium releases. The songs will be short (with occasional exceptions, such as the 28-minute “insomnia”), while the mood will be what the artist once described as “music for sadly happy people”. His last completely new album, The Island, contained vocals, a direction we were not entirely pleased with but grudgingly accepted, as instrumental music does face an uphill battle. But Taramae drops the vocals, extends the songs (five tracks in the 8-minute range and one at 18), and moves noticeably away from the twee. From start to finish, this is Melodium’s moodiest, most developed and most consistent work to date.
Yet while moody, the album is not dark. Warm sounds still abound, placed in a grander context. On “thingholt”, Melodium’s familiar piano is rained upon, first by droplets, then by synthesizer. Halfway through, a rusty drone takes over, followed by a clear, pounding beat. And then, out of nowhere, the piano re-stakes its claim, dancing circles around the room with a military snare before allowing soft electronics to cut in. On “vinkend”, a techno beat advances and retreats, aware that it is not the main character of the play. What in the world is going on here? Girard is no longer writing miniatures; he’s penning suites. Each song contains numerous chapters, and each shift is simultaneously smooth and unexpected.
There’s still enough of the old Melodium here to satisfy old fans: the mid-piece shift of “collioure”, which exudes a carnival-like atmosphere; the glockenspiel of “vazgone ; and of course, the prevalent piano. Unlike The Island, which risked alienating fans, Taramae seeks to reward them with something more substantial: aural meals instead of snacks. By broadening his horizons and deepening his sound, Girard may have produced the best album of his storied career. (Richard Allen)