Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thelma - Benoît Honoré Pioulard (SCQ's Autumn Records 2011)

Benoît Honoré Pioulard Plays Thelma

Benoît Honoré Pioulard
Desire Path Recordings.

SCQ Rating: 84%

The hit-or-miss qualities of ambient music are intensely personal; a patient test of tonal shifts and buried details which eventually latch onto one’s mind-frame, their personality, or fall by the wayside. The majority of today’s ambient fare assumes the latter’s fate but those rare exceptions, in my experience, usually become the sort I cherish for years on end. Finding records of this quality used to be difficult but Desire Path Recordings is dutifully making my search easier. Setting pace with memorable releases by Solo Andata and Kyle Bobby Dunn, the new imprint has now struck a three-peat with Benoît Pioulard’s enigmatic score Thelma.

Documenting an imaginary landscape – what Pioulard refers to as “a lake within a haze” – this mini-album wastes no time transporting listeners to a foreign place. ‘Malick’ opens the set already in bloom; a reserved piece circling its quaint corners but also instilling a sense of familiarity, of belonging. That warmth bleeds into the stretching strings of ‘A Land Which Has No End’, tuneful bouts of reverberation in ‘Calder’, and the heavenly coda of aptly titled ‘Autochoral’ with a retiring, autumnal sensibility. Pioulard’s gift for incepting so many mixed emotions in these pieces is trumped only by an ability to place listeners within his aural geography. Yes, Thelma’s lovely cover-art (featuring photograph done by Sean Curtis Patrick) goes some distance in establishing the song-cycle’s peaceful, remote vibe but Pioulard imparts each track with its own textural character – be it one that lurches from the clouds (‘Malick’), one that pools as if from a leaky tap (‘Pidgin’) or as a textile of lost voices (‘Hushes Gasp’).

None of these strengths properly explain my obsessive connection to Thelma, but that’s par for the course with desirable ambient records. As a mini-album, Benoît Honoré Pioulard Plays Thelma’s direct but still teasing, engaging but fleeting. It colours moods that are explicitly autumn to me, and I’ve no doubt that Pioulard’s latest will remain a coveted favourite of mine for years to come.

Benoît Honoré Pioulard - Calder by desire path recordings

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