Graded on a Curve:
Colleen,
A flame my love,
a frequency

Multi-instrumentalist Cécile Schott records under the name Colleen. Active since the early ’00s, she’s accumulated an impressive discography through the electronic processing of acoustic instrumentation, notably on the viola da gamba. But for her latest record, she’s put down that axe for a pocket piano and Septavox synth designed by the Critter & Guitari company, playing them through Moog delay pedals to often captivating effect; A flame my love, a frequency is out now on clear vinyl, compact disc, and digital via Thrill Jockey.

From 2003-’05, Cécile Schott released four records, all on Tony Morley’s Leaf label, and then took a seven-year break in recording, coming back with The Weighing of the Heart in 2013 on Second Language. Since then, she’s released a record every other year, with her latest cementing a relationship with Thrill Jockey that began with the terrific Captain of None.

For those unfamiliar with Schott’s work as Colleen, reading of her switcheroo in instruments may seem an extreme maneuver. The change is a striking one for sure, but the results aren’t jarring or born of desperation, as her initial intent was to integrate rhythms created with the newly acquired pocket piano with the viola da gamba.

The combination wasn’t what she wanted however, and so the search was on for soundscapes that did fit, this situation falling directly in line with her overall mode of operation. For instance, when Schott feels vocals are appropriate, she sings. If voice doesn’t work, the pieces remain instrumental, with the music vivid and sturdy enough in its inventiveness to overcome any perceived lack.

Although the viola da gamba, or viol for short, is today largely associated with the performance of Early music, Schott differs in her use of the instrument, electronically looping, sampling, and additionally altering the strings in ways that are much nearer to contemporary experimentalism. Therefore, cohesiveness is found in A flame my love, a frequency’s bold new developments.

If unwinding in varying degrees of unusualness, Colleen’s atmospheres are nearly always agreeable to the ear or easy to absorb, reinforcing what Thrill Jockey describes as her pop side. This aspect acquires increased importance on her latest, a concept album of sorts relating to the November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris; while visiting her former home, she spent the afternoon near a café that was beset with violence later that night.

The album opens with the rippling bell-like tones of “November,” gripping in its simplicity yet full-bodied as it sets the stage for what’s in store. In the following long selection “Separating,” Schott evinces the robustness of her new instrumental orientation, combining layers of burbling, decidedly retro-futuristic synth with breathy vocals, their timbre enhanced by a delayed echo. Repetition, both musical and lyrical, is key to the track’s success, but so is variation; elements drop out, return and adjust, and the whole is a showcase of ingenuity.

There are rhythmic currents to “Separating,” but the quality gets magnified considerably in the perky momentum of “Another world,” though the pace does shift along the way. The cut is also fittingly titled, as the bygone science-fictive aura persists, through the fadeout and into “Winter dawn,” which exudes a borderline minimal electro vibe strengthened by the return of voice. In pop terms, this is the set’s centerpiece.

Schott might not engage with the events that impacted the LP’s making in a head-on way, but knowledge of those circumstances unquestionably increases the impact of the line “The world had nearly ended yet the sky was blue”/ “And I came home with a fistful of fear.” By contrast, “Summer night (Bat song)” hovers between meditative and majestic, the music reminiscent of Casio keyboards as the words relate an encounter with the natural world.

The environment it maintains is quite pleasant, but “The stars vs. creatures” is even better, painting an even deeper portrait of nature while cyclical, otherworldly motifs abound. By now, the resonances of the disc’s instrumental pieces are familiar, but “One warm spark” is far from predictable as it leads into the closing title track. Similar in execution to “Summer night (Bat song),” except that the drone boldness of the Casio tones begins to resemble kosmische played on church organs, it’s a sublime finale to a distinctive and remarkable record.

Schott may have brought home a fistful of fear, but she didn’t let it get the best of her. Instead, A flame my love, a frequency recalls the words of Toni Morrison on the duty of the artist in a troubled world: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” The latest from Colleen is as sonically engrossing as it is inspiring, and is unequivocally a healing thing.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text