[2 May 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
For just a couple of musicians, best friends Fursy Teyssier and Stephane “Neige” Paut have created an extraordinary amount of first-rate music over the past few years. In fact, the Avignon, France natives have a creative relationship that’s not unlike the extended Broken Social Scene family: they’ve played in bands together, first with dark metal outfit Phest, and then most notably with the post punk-inspired Amesoeurs. Teyssier has always had a hand in Neige’s solo project Alcest, including co-writing several songs and playing rhythm guitar on Alcest’s first European tour, and conversely, Neige will be helping out on guitar when Teyssier’s own band Les Discrets starts playing shows. Most recently, with Alcest winning over many people in 2007 with the beautiful Souvenires d’un Autre Monde and Amesoeurs knocking one out of the park with their first, and last, full-length in 2008, the attention has been focused primarily on the musical talents of Neige, but with Teyssier having finally completed his own band’s first album, it’s time he got some well-deserved attention of his own.
Formed in the wake of Amesoeurs’ break-up, with former bandmate Winterhalter chipping in on drums and Audrey Hadorn helping out on vocals, Les Discrets shares a lot in common with Phest, Alcest, and Amesoeurs, as there is a very strong post-punk influence that lingers throughout Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées. That said, make no mistake, Les Discrets is a distinct, separate entity. While Amesoeurs melded blatant, well-executed Joy Division and Cure-inspired passages with cathartic black metal, and Alcest continues to create a slightly metallic version of the music of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, Teyssier and Les Discrets go for a much more robust approach. The gloomy, gothic influences from the early-1980s are still there, but this album works in much subtler ways, interweaving gorgeously bleak melodies with heavier arrangements, not unlike what Anathema and Agalloch have done in the past. Instead of conveying pastoral, innocent sentiments or moments of pure despair, there’s more of a middle ground on this record that’s rather dignified for a genre that normally tends to get a little bipolar when it comes to expressing emotion.
This album, loosely translated as, “September and its last thoughts”, is deceptive in its simplicity. “L’Échappée” strides confidently between gothic metal and early-90s dream pop, never overplaying either side, heavy chords and gossamer-thin guitar melodies underscoring Teyssier’s deliberate but surprisingly effective vocal delivery. On the other hand, “Les Feuilles de l’Olivier” explodes out of the gate with a riff pattern and double-kick percussion eerily similar to Norwegian greats Emperor, but acoustic guitar and those returning wispy, smooth melodies, tremelo picked so gently you’d swear they were e-bowed, offset the darkness with relative ease. Meanwhile, the acoustic lead guitar on the otherwise roaring “Effet de Nuit” (a track dating back to Teyssier’s time in Phest) is an inspired touch, “Chanson d’Automne” is a languid seven and a half-minute mood piece, and “Sur le Quais” is a more subdued acoustic, folk-inspired track.
The template might be a touch predictable (the use of ¾ beats can get predictable), and the band hasn’t quite gotten to the point where they can equal the atmospheric power of Agalloch’s masterpieces The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain, but there are moments where you sense they’re very, very close. “Song For Mountains” feels impeccably arranged, starting off with a mournful acoustic intro before some ‘80s-inspired, choppy guitar notes usher in a wave of graceful distorted chords, the pattern repeating gracefully over the course of six minutes. “Effet de Nuit”, on the other hand, is driven by Teyssier’s commanding vocal delivery which bears a slight resemblance to Fields of the Nephilim or Sisters of Mercy. “Une Matinée d’Hiver” concludes the album on a heart-wrenching note, as the metal is abandoned entirely in favor of something closer to the Cocteau Twins, the fact that Teyssier and Hadorn sing exclusively in French adding a mysterious quality, at least to those who aren’t exactly fluent in French. It’s a sign of great things to come from Teyssier, who has emerged out from the shadow of his talented peer Neige with a lovely, very confident work of his own. C’est magnifique.