Sometimes, one can’t help but wonder about music's “what ifs”. The mind can conjure infinite possibilities: technology can be used or abused to breed something totally new, or new ideas can be grafted to the backs of the old. Similar thoughts wandered through my brain as I listened to French guitarist Guillaume Gargaud’s Lost Chords. I wondered, is this what a Tim Hecker/Christian Fennesz collaboration would sound like?
The first track tells all, as manipulated guitar chords are buried beneath a humongous layer of noise and feedback. The song captivates from its very first moment. The sound is so thick, the layers so wonderfully placed, that it instantly reminds one of Hecker's An Imaginary Country. “Sortir” then lands somewhere between Fennesz’ Endless Summer and Black Sea. For the first time on the album, a guitar noise is clearly apparent. We can hear it being played, or at least played, processed, cut up, stretched, filtered, transposed and crashed neck-first into a seabed of fellow guitar lines. The effect is enthralling; with the proper imagination, the song can give birth to an abundance of visualizations, daydreams and emotions.
But I’m being a bit unfair here. Limiting Gargaud’s music to the summation of two other musicians would be taking a lot from the man himself. Gargaud's music possesses a personal stamp, and the effort and detail he devotes to every track should earn him a place among experimental music’s elite. In fact, the album's production is one of its key features. One can sense certain sounds rising and crawling from a distance while others step back; some move right and dominate for a while, only to fall back into equilibrium and become balanced by sounds that appear on the left. These little things differentiate a great album from a very good one.
“Longue Route” and “Cesser” provide relief by offering contemplative room. In these tracks, one can occasionally recognize the notes being played, which allows the ears a break from the noise and glitches. The outer hums remain present, but in a more restrained sense, adding flavor and extending the array of moods. Album closer, “Rêver”, echoes the album's beginning. The trip is over, and the lost chords remain lost within an the layered sounds and effects.
Some albums stir up forums, cause waves of anticipation and ultimately disappoint. Others remain known to a lucky few. Lost Chords is one of the latter kind, and will definitely turn many heads if it receives its due attention. If the Hecker/Fennesz collaboration never happens, Lost Chords will remain the best approximation, and perhaps just a little bit more.
Here Gargaud acheives visceral noise with an Americana twist; contorted guitar twangs, dust bowl acoustic guitar plucks that might accompany a low budget indie film of travelling over the Mexican desert, rocky horizons in the distance. Similar to James Ferraro's, hazy Old English Spelling Bee release early last year - 'Last American Hero', but harsher in sound and significantly less restrained. These are a rough set of textures, worn sheets of chords, and at the same time beautiful medody.
Opening track Oeil Humide (the watery eye), and indeed the majority of the album flies between walls of noise, and other unheard-of noises from Gargaud's guitar. The density of the sound is almost overwhelming, thick and heavy. Seemingly erratic attacks at the guitar strings, somehow keep a coherency. Tracks 'Sortir' and 'Passerelle' fizz with pure electric energy, heavily treated through effects. Gargaud doesn't neglect any part of the guitar's range, from ground rumbling bass, to glowing single treble notes. Penultimate track 'Cesser' provides a respite for the listener, before ending on 'Rever de courier'; like being caught in a plane slipstream, the sun in our eyes.
Lost Chords is a glisteningly fierce piece, exciting and unpredictable. The thought that Gargaud may well have improvised large parts of this album makes for an all the more absorbing listen. A great kick start to the year for Dead Pilot Records, and a welcome introduction to Guillaume Gargaud if new to his work. I'd urge you to pick up this album now, you won't regret it.