Review: Ensemble – Excerpts

“Beautiful” is one of those words that is so often tossed about willy and (more to the point) nilly, that it quickly loses all meaning and becomes just another cliché. Is that sunset really beautiful, or is it just unusually pink? Is that baby really beautiful or is just another shrieking heap of muck-encrusted flesh, like all babies? So please do bear this in mind when I tell you that Excerpts, the latest album from Montreal-based singer/songwriter Olivier Alary’s somewhat anonymously-entitled Ensemble, is a beautiful album. There is no other word for it. It is not merely charming, nor unusually pink, it is an album of extraordinarily beautiful music.

A shimmering blend of chamber pop and experimental soundscape, each song weaves its own little spell with confidence, understatement and utter precision. Alary expands upon the standard instrumentation of guitars and drums with sumptuous strings and all manner of subtle sonic textures and studio jiggery-pokery. His tendency to cut through the silkier, poppier elements of the album with a little atonal stab here and a wall of jabbering voices there is perhaps what makes this record truly unique. Add to this the timeless sensuality and emotional clarity vocals of Darcy Conroy’s breathy vocals and you have something that is simultaneously cerebral and instinctual, uncompromising and accessible.

Despite featuring songs in English as well as French, the overall result is irrepresibly Gallic in nature. Serge Gainsbourg is an obvious influence, but fortunately Alary manages to bring enough of his own flair for orchestration and expansive soundscapes to keep the record from becoming an exercise in mere emulation.

Perhaps Excerpts‘ biggest flaw is that, in this era of viral videos, shuffle functions and endless choice, there is no real stand-out track. The whole thing hangs together so cohesively as an album that even the title-track (which was released as a single) loses much of its impact when divorced from the context of the album as a whole. Nonetheless, this is what pop music ought to be. Expressive, accessible, deep, ; the sort of music which makes you want to stick on a pair of headphones and dive headfirst into it. The sort of music you wish would appear on the soundtrack to the movie of your life which no one will (rightly) ever make. In short, genres be damned, this is just music. Genuinely beautiful music.

One Response to “Review: Ensemble – Excerpts”
  1. trop beau. merci pour la belle découverte.

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