Asseyant dans un arbre...
The casual music listener will be hard pressed to make a connection between Yann Tiersen and Shannon Wright. Tiersen is recognized internationally for his movie scores for Amélie and Goodbye Lenin!, and in his native France for his eclectic albums built mostly around instrumentals. Wright made waves on college radio with Crowsdell before embarking on an adventurous solo career that has produced a steady stream of bare and impassioned records. A cross-genre icon on one side, indie heroine on the other. So, what’s the attraction? Artistic vision, of course. Wright and Tiersen are both versatile artists who have constructed work of impeccable complexity and vision virtually alone. Tiersen famously performed solo for much of the early part of his professional career, while Wright was literally forced to take matters in her own hands after the fall out of her band. Their respective sounds are distinct and unmistakable. In this spirit, Tiersen and Wright form a symbiotic pair, compassionate towards the other’s determination and confident to work on a common goal.
Yann Tiersen and Shannon Wright illuminates each artist’s robust personality and warm affection for music using lucid strokes. Written, composed, and recorded in a mere 20 days, the record is a loose yet organized affair; careful arrangement comes natural to the two, being accustomed to composing and playing independently, but a breezy recording schedule is apparent in the lack of fuss. The songs of YT&SW are indeed a fine balance between Tiersen’s experimentations with instrumentation and Wright’s explorations of rhythm, though they admittedly veer in favor of Wright’s dramatic compositions. Nevertheless, the record is a lean exercise in creativity, and a healthy venture into collaboration for solo artists.
The balance in the duo’s work is established at the outset. The opening “No Mercy for She” sets a plaintive tone for the record, as Wright whispers over a marching piano and plucked and scratched strings. Wright stutters, “No mercy / At my feet / No mercy / Come for me”, casting a pallor that parallels the hollow and metallic textures of Tiersen’s accompaniment. While Wright’s emotive vocals play a large role in setting the tone not just here but throughout the record, but are balanced with the other’s trademarks; “Mercy” pulsates in a familiar Tiersen time signature of three. Inversely, the following track “Dragon Fly” begins with a huffing accordion that evokes a Franco-nostalgia, but tensile guitar pulls crescendo from underneath as a counterbalance. Even as Wright opens her mouth and releases a cold chill reminiscent of Beth Gibbons, she paints an embracing portrait of intimacy and trust: “On the day that we met / I awoke from a tall tall sleep / You said / Keep you eyes open wide / And keep your arms open wide / You brought me courage” In such a manner do Tiersen and Wright constantly seek and create balance in their work, thus further highlighting their mutual aptitude and respect for music.
Both Tiersen and Wright also demonstrate their dynamic approach to pop composition, constantly pushing old forms with additional parts, natural shifts, and orchestration. “Sound the Bells” begins at a clip as Tiersen speeds through arpeggio runs on piano, before opening the rhythm up to a wash of vibes, cymbals, and guitar. The first melody repeats, but is mellowed instead by Wright’s breathy verse and a sparse accompaniment of haunting organs and spare notes. Each section conveys tension and release, balanced one against the other to create a cohesive composition. In this manner, many of YT&SW‘s songs play like mini-albums; dense with ideas, but short and spare enough to allow the listener ample breathing space. “Ode to a Friend” similarly moves from part to part, not so much in terms of chord progression or rhythmic change, but through arrangement and choice instrumentation. “Ode’s” theme is initially stated with Wright’s shimmering guitar, before sliding into velvet vocals draped over Tiersen’s piano. For the bridge, Tiersen plays a couple runs over rumbling percussion and ghostly organs, thus adding movement when the song seems to anchor itself as a deep waltz. Even when Wright returns with her vocal, subtle touches like marimba rolls add an airy color to counterweigh Wright’s cavernous vocal. This list of instruments admittedly looms a dense sound, but the reality is that instruments pass in and out depending on the moment, and are used in an intelligent manner. Tiersen and Wright pay the utmost care to the song, completely surrendering their abilities to each composition to properly shape its sound.
Oddly enough, the two most apparent products of the Wright side of the brain (sorry) veer YT&SW off course yet stand out for their sheer ferocity. “Dried Sea” begins naturally enough with Wright’s solitude guitar and Tiersen adding only subdued vibes in the back. She mumbles over coarse lines, “Trouble / Come for me”, before upping the tension for the chorus. Wright wisely focuses her caterwaul, thus restraining the playing and building pressure. However, “While You Sleep” breaks the tension, wherein Wright lets loose over Tiersen’s Middle Eastern scaled violin line, bashing guitars, and drums. She commands with force, more through charisma than volume, “I put you in a bottle / I take you away from her.” A certain touch of moderation remains though, as Wright frequently pens abstract: “Temptation red / Inside my head / You’re so innocent when you sleep.” Image and sound are at their harshest here, yet they are perhaps best heard as the spikes that occasionally coarse through our veins.
Those familiar with both Tiersen and Wright will find both in fine form on YT&SW. Tiersen continues to blend past forms with modern experiments with an increasing natural ease, while Wright still uses sway, shimmer, and dissonance to build sweet melodies. Admittedly, in surrendering a solo vision to that of a duo, the result is not as piercing as the respective artists’ individual works. However, YT&SW is more a meeting of minds than a crossover attempt, so the record plays well for any fan of creative exploration.