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Benoît Pioulard - Precis

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Artist: Benoît Pioulard

Album: Precis

Label: Kranky

Review date: Oct. 15, 2006

The romance of youth can take many guises, from insouciance to impassioned idealism. Then there’s the idyll of the inwardly sensitive soul; the sad-sweet sound of undefined longing. File 20-year-old Thomas Meluch – who records under the nom de plume Benoit Pioulard – under the latter. On Precis, his mostly excellent Kranky debut, the young songsmith sings in a handsome, low-toned croon over muse-addled songs of nascent heartache.

As far as bedroom recordings go, Precis is nice, if not terribly unique. Nearly every song follows the same formula, with strummed or fingerpicked acoustic guitar affixed with various electronic elements. It’s a fairly common approach these days, what with Pro Tools starter kits being practically handed out with bank accounts. But Meluch coaxes new magic out of this old hat, combining Elliot Smith-style pop sensibility with a keen sense of collage.

Meluch sings like a man confessing grievances while half-asleep, his lyrics hazy impressions as nebulous as the tunes themselves. “Together & Down” is a pallid waltz beset by images of a watery burial. “Ext. Leslie Park” contains a circular melody and streams of distorted electric guitar. But underneath the backwash sits the same steel-string acoustic, chiming away on yet another minor-key chord pattern. It’s darned pretty, though.

“Triggering Back” is by far the most comely cut on an album full of sadsack preening. It’s got a wonderful sense of motion, all spectral jitter and hollow longing. Something tells me this one would be huge in metropolitan France, where sex and anomie aren’t mutually exclusive. This is followed by “Moth Wings,” an Eastern-sounding piano meditation given the lo-fi treatment.

Every once and awhile, Meluch amplifies the electronics, such as on “Corpus Chant,” which features choice digital burps and wheezes alongside the acoustic elements. “Palimend,” on the other hand, brings us back to the blueprint of haunting strums and slivers of washed-out sound.

The rest of the disc has varying moments of interest, with “Sous La Plage” a particular standout. Here, Meluch trims back the aural accoutrements in favor of a classic dream-pop arrangement. He also turns in some truly stately vocals. Not as effective is the closing track, “Ash into the Sky,” which sounds like a song from Beck’s Sea Change recorded underwater. Yeah, it’s just that soporific.

Did I mention that I really like this album? ’Cause I do. Maybe I’m partial to young male saddoes; perhaps I just really dig reverb. Meluch, ne Piolard likely has a short hike before he arrives at a definitive musical statement, but Precis makes for a fine start to his journey.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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