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Bérangère Maximin - No One is an Island

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Artist: Bérangère Maximin

Album: No One is an Island

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Apr. 30, 2012


Berangere Maximin - "Knitting in the Air" (No One is an Island)


Bérangère Maximin does much of her recording at her own aptly named Parisian studio, Home Sweet Home, but she’s no shut-in. As her new album shows, Maximin sees beyond the myopia that can afflict those who work from home. In preparation for her second album, Maximin invited some friends over to play, and the resulting duets make up the majority of No One is an Island. Maximin’s sophomore effort pairs her with three guitarists — Christian Fennesz, Frédéric Oberland and Richard Pinhas — and, in Rhys Chatham, a trumpet player best known for his work for guitar. No matter the co-conspirator, the results reside at the more evocative end of the spectrum, colorful collaborations that range from the gleefully chaotic to chilling, alien siren songs.

The brief “Un jour, mes restes au soleil” is Maximin’s sole solo track, the only spot on No One is an Island that she is one. The rest of the time, when there are two at Home Sweet Home, Maximin plays the gracious host; it’s clear that she’s adapting to her guests and not the other way around. The brawny snarl of Pinhas’ guitar in “Carnaval cannibale” is in stark contrast to the far gentler tone of Maximin and Oberland’s “How Warm is Our Love,” and it’s not too tough a task to identify the two tracks on which Mr. Fennesz is involved. The glitchy, pock-marked beauty that typically marks Fennesz’s work abound on “Knitting in the Air” and “Bicéphale Ballade,” the former of which is the closest the album gets to traditional songcraft. It’s the disc’s undisputed highlight, with swathes of processed guitar forming a beautiful background to Maximin’s deadpanned lyrical delivery. As with many a Louis Sullivan building, it’s easy enough to appreciate the song as a whole, but it pays to take note of the details: the way that Maximin’s voice interacts with her slowed-down vocal doppelganger, who echoes her every step of the way, the panning that causes the waves of guitar to seem to swirl around (and through) the listener’s head, the way that new ingredients seem to come from nowhere, emerging from in between one of the track’s many layers.

Maximin’s step into the spotlight on “Knitting in the Air” isn’t the norm. Typically, she’s the one providing the backdrop for her partners, and not the other way around. It’s not always easy to identify just who’s doing what (or what one might be doing to the output of the other), but it’s normally the guitars and trumpet that come out on top, even if, as in the case of Chatham’s horn in “Where the Skin Meets the Bone,” it’s in twisted and manipulated fashion. On No One is an Island Maximin’s biggest skill isn’t in what she plays. Her credits on the album include guitar, laptop, and “various objects,” but it’s Maximin’s role as the architect/arranger/composer/impresario that is her more important contribution. No One is an Island could not have been made without Chatham, Fennesz, Oberland, or Pinhas, and Bérangère Maximin would certainly admit as much. That does nothing, however, to diminish her own achievement in creating one of the more enchanting albums to hit these ears this year.

By Adam Strohm

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