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Benoît Pioulard - Lasted

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Artist: Benoît Pioulard

Album: Lasted

Label: Kranky

Review date: Oct. 11, 2010

Portland’s Benoît Pioulard starts writing his songs with an acoustic guitar and finishes by adding atmosphere. The listener hears this in reverse order: surface noise first, then finger-picked nylon strings. Thomas Meluch sounds more like a singer-songwriter than most of his Kranky labelmates, but Lasted, his latest album, is as much a mutually dependent hybrid of folk and ambient as the two that preceded it, Précis and Temper. His voice, the sequencing of the album, and its concision all indicate that he’s improving as a musician, but these adaptations are incidental to this music’s static appeal. This isn’t better or worse than anything else he’s done, it’s just more.

Meluch calls his Polaroids “instant artifacts.” Lasted’s songs, both the poppy ones and the interludes, are composed of equal parts field recordings, analog haze and tentatively sung melodies. They are collections of instant artifacts. It seems as if Meluch is still surprised by the songs he makes, even though he keeps making the same album. “Shouting Distance” is the pop song here — there’s always one per album — and if you’re not listening closely enough, it makes sitting through the other songs feel like a drag when they’re actually pretty good. You can hear Pioulard pulling back from that kind of accessibility on songs like “RTO,” which on a songwriting basis is probably the equal of “Shouting Distance,” but checks its momentum and just hovers pleasantly instead of spilling forth. Pioulard chooses not to choose between ambient and pop, and this kind of persistence contrasts with former labelmates Deerhunter, whose career has been about outgrowing its early ambient adventures. But this music works very differently: Where Deerhunter’s drone experiments were sprawling and instrumental, Pioulard’s are concise and structurally important to the music. Neither the ambient parts nor the songs are much fun without the other half.

There are moments of instrumental ambience, though. First track “Purse Discusses” introduces the record with a distant train whistle and a drone that wobbles out of a tape machine. Throughout the rest of the album, Pioulard alternates between songs and mellow interludes whose tone is slightly more pastoral and downbeat than the songs. This going back and forth is the sound of “domestic isolation” — words that the press release uses to describe Meluch’s working conditions and a state that must resonate with his audience. In terms of Björk albums, Pioulard fans are Vespertine people: they embrace the inscrutable as proof of a rich inner life. Benoît Pioulard’s barely comprehensible lyrics, while clearly as smart as the rest of the package, fit the shape of the music without the burden of interpretation.

Lasted is both as good as it should be and completely unsurprising. Meluch came upon his aesthetic organically, as they say, and tracing it back leads to good thoughts: overcast days, a comfortable room, the incredible number and rude health of trees in Portland. Used as background music, though, Lasted is a touch too polite, too close to a soundtrack for wistful Tubmlrs whose take on nature has more to do with Ryan McGinley. The music won’t go out of its way to point out its superiority, but it’s there if you look for it.

The artist has a perverse side, too, and with luck it will come out before we lose interest. It’s pretty hard to find in the music, but he has cited Harmony Korine and Brian DeGraw’s cryptic Ssab Songs as his favorite record, and that’s promising. Listening to the burnished surface of this album, it’s hard not to be a little worried for Benoît Pioulard, scared he won’t tap into that weirdness before the Internet swallows him up. He’s created a distinct style that seems to be a natural extension of his personality and interests, and while there’s certainly very little overlap between his audience and Katy Perry’s, the “Teenage Dream” video accidentally makes that membrane just a little bit thinner. His aesthetic isn’t as unique as it seemed a few years ago. The contradictory appeal of Pioulard’s music partly lies in the fact that it makes these concerns seem petty because we can still identify with him in the nebulous, allusive way we love. But as someone with a blackened nub where my attention span used to be, I also want this guy to have the confidence to go deeper than instant artifacts.

By Brandon Bussolini

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