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Colleen - Colleen et les Boites a Musique

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Artist: Colleen

Album: Colleen et les Boites a Musique

Label: Leaf

Review date: Nov. 5, 2006

In interviews, Cecile “Colleen” Schott has often mentioned her love of This Heat’s albums, particularly their first. This affinity draws an interesting point of comparison. Like that group, Colleen structures her music with the timbral and emotional aspects of the sound guiding the form. This Heat’s “Horizontal Hold” serves as a good example: the unusual dynamic shifts and structure of the song result from a need to maintain its immense energy, and follow from an intuitive re-approaching of established song-form. Verse-chorus patterns are subverted in favor of a lurching, stop-start structure underlined by dramatic changes in texture. The sense of musical freedom in that song, and in most of that group’s catalog, is impressive – one feels as though the music could move in any direction, veer at any unexpected angle. This freedom also guides Colleen’s best work, but under tamer circumstances. It’s not as clearly the thrill of the unexpected but the willingness and ability to follow the song, a keenness to its suggestions and implications, particularly when they point to unconventional paths.

All of this points to the unusual nature of this EP. Translated, the title reads Colleen and the Music Boxes, and this simple pairing is the foundation of the disc. With the narrow parameters of the project in mind, the results are impressive – the pieces are varied in texture and tone. But without the charm of novelty, Colleen’s creations don’t stand up as well.

It’s the inclusion of “I’ll Read You A Story,” a track from 2005's The Golden Morning Breaks, that highlights the EP’s shortcomings. Consistent with the other pieces, it’s built around the sounds of a music box; unlike the rest, it’s supplemented by a plucked classical guitar, the only conventional instrument on the EP. The rough, wooden sound of the strings serves as a wonderful compliment to the clear, piercing chime of the music box. The pairing of these two “instruments” is not intuitive, and it’s precisely this ability to hear what elements are needed to keep a piece moving forward or to fill in its gaps that distinguishes Colleen as an exceptional musician. That talent feels checked under the rigid guidelines of this project.

None of the pieces fall flat, but only a few feel fully conceived. As adept as Colleen is at coaxing rich and unexpected textures from her music boxes, those sounds alone struggle to keep afloat for the duration of a piece, and one wishes they had been allowed a guitar or cello to help them along. This isn’t to say the quality of the music isn’t high, only that the standards Colleen has already set are higher. Pleasantly ambient, the bulk of these pieces don’t invite the careful listening her past work does. The exceptions – “Your Heart Is So Loud,” “Happiness Nuggets,” “What Is A Componium? Part 1,” “The Sad Panther” – are treasures, but at 13 tracks and 38 minutes, there is probably a reason the disc comes labeled as an EP.

By Raf Spielman

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