I can’t believe this is a debut album. Toulouse post-rock quartet BRUIT ≤ (the symbol a sign of humility, meaning “less than”) certainly knows what it’s doing. Four extended stormers (one for each member), two explosive videos, a sense of largesse, and a perfect post-rock title add up to a spectacular start. Most bands never get this good. Credit can be awarded to the intricate composition and the incorporation of orchestral instruments within the band (violin and cello) and without (clarinet, French horn, bass trombone, vibraphone).
The album flows like a suite, reminiscent of MONO’s large-theatre ensembles, but the sound is their own. Yndi Halda once wrung a decade of success from a stunning debut before adding vocals, but BRUIT ≤’s only words are elegant voiceovers. “Industry” ends in such a gorgeous sway of strings that one nearly forgets the guitars and drums that have come before. These dissolve into acoustic guitar and piano, forming the calm introduction of first single “Renaissance;” if it’s fair to call an 8 1/2 minute track a single. Every listener knows that the timbre will change eventually, but there’s no rush; the chamber feeling is extended more than halfway into the track, but few would ask for a quicker fade. Even during the inevitable shift, each transition seems instinctive and unhurried. When the piece retreats to acoustic guitar and birds, the listener feels sanctified.
This leads to the remarkable “Amazing Old Tree,” bookended by light narrative. One feels the wisdom of the ages in an old man’s words, the narrator empathizing with the tree, speculating at its age (“about 500 years old”), lamenting at the destruction of its siblings through clearcutting. The track itself is gentle, electronics in the closing minutes circulating like tree rings. A weary sadness engulfs the narrator: a lone, reluctant witness to the environmental travesty.
The machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again. The title refers to a vicious cycle, “nature v. culture,” costs incurred and subsequent rebuilding. The twelve-minute title track swirls like a tornado and explodes like a building in its path. Will we ever learn? BRUIT ≤ implies that we will; then we’ll forget again. Their plea is for an end to the cycle, for humanity to finally apply the lessons of experience to sustained, rather than sporadic change. The powerful closer implies that we are caught up in something larger than ourselves. But when seen from another angle, we may one day build a monster that we can no longer destroy. (Richard Allen)