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Ensemble

Ensemble

(Fatcat Records; US: 17 Oct 2006; UK: 25 Sep 2006)

I recently praised Ensemble’s EP, Disown, Delete, which served as the lead single for this self-titled full-length. Olivier Alary’s organically enhanced electronica project is equally fine when stretched out to eight tracks and a 43-minute running time. Although Alary, in effect, is Ensemble, he makes good on the moniker he’s chosen by bringing in a host of invaluable contributors. Adding to his electronics, plucked acoustic guitars, bass, piano, and occasional soft vocals are Chan Marshall (aka, Cat Power), who sings on “Disown Delete”, while Lou Barlow of Sebadoh fame adds weary beauty to the hovering “One Kind Two Minds”. London laptoppist/vocalist Mileece duets with Alary on the gorgeous and hazy bossa nova opener “Summerstorm”, as well as the loungey chill-out track “All We Leave Behind”. And throughout Ensemble, Johannes Malfatii contributes subtly complex and Impressionistic orchestral arrangements, supplying real warmth to contrast Alary’s own chilly digital atmospheres. The whole album is carefully balanced between electronic and natural elements. But a few tracks aren’t so terribly arresting. Both “Still” and “Unrest”, each around two minutes long, are mood pieces set between true songs. While they don’t detract from the album at all, they also don’t add much. The vocals on “Loose”, by Alary and Camille Claverie, blend into the already amorphous instrumentation. And the six-minute final cut, “For Good”, consists of windblown wisps of white noise so quiet that you’ll have to crank up the volume to hear anything at all. Nonetheless, the successful half of Ensemble makes up for the less spectacular (and less audible) tracks by offering an ambient music that elegantly bridges the divides between electronica, classical, folk, and indie-pop, effortlessly integrating all of these disparate genres into one lovely and unassuming sound.

Rating:

Michael Keefe is a freelance music journalist, an independent bookstore publicist, and a singer/guitarist/songwriter in a band. Raised on a record collection of The Beatles, Coltrane, Mozart, and Ravi Shankar, Michael has been a slave to music his whole life. At age 16, he got a drum set and a job at a record store, and he's been playing and peddling music ever since. Today, he lives in Oregon with his wife (also a writer, but not about music), two cats, and a whole lot of instruments and CDs.


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