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sylvain chauveau & stephan mathieu - Palimpsest
It’s no secret how much we’ve loved Stephan Mathieu’s sublime drones and Sylvain Chauveau’s delicate compositions in the past, so to see these two pillars of experimental music collaborating has got us hot under the collar. But that’s not the half of it – not only did the two decide to work together, they had a very specific concept - ‘Palimpsest’ finds the duo reframing the timeless songs of Bill Callahan (aka Smog). Those familiar with Callahan’s writing might struggle to work out just how two European drone enthusiasts might reimagine songs like ‘Wild Love’ and ‘Chosen One’, but if you look closely the clues are all there. Mathieu actually has a history of tampering with pop music, from the deconstructions of 20th century public domain recordings on ‘Frequencylib’ to the incredible Full Swing Edits series which found him pulling apart Yo La Tengo, Antenne and more. In a way ‘Palimpsest’ could feel like a continuation of those projects, and certainly lives and dies with the respect that Mathieu and Chauveau have for the subject matter. Chauveau’s own ‘Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)’ LP was notable for shedding light on his remarkable vocals, and these vocals act as the anchor for ‘Palimpsest’, pulling the songs back from Mathieu’s gaseous ambience into the real world, if you will. While the backbone might be light, thrumming harmony, Chauveau asserts himself with confidence and ease, taking on Callahan’s tortured subject matter with a Gauloises-assisted Gallic charm. The vocals duck and dive around the electronic accompaniments, and Chauveau has no problems with pulling apart Callahan’s verses and choruses, giving them fresh rhythms and delightfully pregnant silences. Possibly the most striking moment of all comes in ‘Your Wedding’, which is interrupted by a screeching ‘computer solo’ courtesy of synth/noise manipulator Jeff Witscher (aka Rene Hell). Almost as proof that the music is not taking itself too seriously, this might be the album’s balancing point, and something that remains memorable and striking after umpteen listens. Conceptually ‘Palimpsest’ is already going to rake in plenty of interested parties, but put that aside for a second and just let yourself enjoy it from a purely aural perspective. To put it bluntly it’s just beautiful music – not precious or labored, not twee or grating, just haunting, gorgeous and melancholy.