Yann Tiersen is somewhat of an anomaly and has been placed under heavy scrutiny since exploding onto the world’s radar with his soundtrack for Amelie. He’s never considered himself a composer yet continues to compose for films and create albums worth of songs that play out like legitimate scores and compositions. Skyline is no exception to this, and it’s stronger for it, showcasing Tiersen at the current height of his abilities. It’s a very distinct, very engaging piece of art that holds up as it plays out and never tires.
The album begins with “Another Shore”, which comes off sounding like the best of Explosions in the Sky, provided they granted themselves a broader instrument palette. Remember those familiar peaks and valleys that were used so effectively on The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place? Tiersen manages to reach similar heights here. If he would’ve hit the ground running with this style for Skyline, there’s no doubt in my mind Tiersen could create another instrumental masterpiece. Instead, he proves too restless to confine himself to the limitations of one genre, pushing himself into new spaces throughout the course of the album while still remaining distinctly himself, injecting each of the subsequent eight tracks with his familiar identity.
After Skyline‘s powerful start comes the pairing of “I’m Gonna Live Anyhow” and “Monuments”. The former contains hushed and distorted vocal passages and the near-continuous run of what sounds like a trumpet-emulating synthesizer. Then “Monuments”, once again, brings Explosions in the Sky to mind, only this time focusing in one the softer side of things and featuring very complementary vocals. “Monuments” becomes one of the albums strongest moments by virtue of beings its most unassuming, casting a gentle kind of magic that pulls the listener in and keeps them rapt throughout.
“The Gutter” restores some of the magic present in “Another Shore”, Skyline‘s huge opening track, while not succumbing to that tracks bombast — instead subtly expanding on a driving bassline until it becomes its own kind of indirect crescendo. It’s a gripping moment which proves how effective Tiersen can be expanding on minimalist themes. When he plays it relatively straight, he’s at his most captivating, which “The Gutter” helps make more apparent than usual. Punctuating that fact is the decision to follow “The Gutter” with “Exit 25 Block 20”, Skyline‘s most experimental track, and one of its shortest. There are no instruments featured until its halfway point, but even then, he struggles to reach the heights of a song like “Another Shore”, rendering it a slight misstep that temporarily derails the album’s momentum.
After the pleasant ambient washes that are prominent in “Hesitation Wound”, again complemented by airy dream-like vocals that float over the instruments and play on Tiersen’s aesthetic remarkably well, Skyline ends with a trio of tracks leaving no doubt to his skills as a composer. “Forgive Me”, “The Trial”, and “Vanishing Point” all play up both Tiersen’s strengths in an exhilarating fashion that really makes Skyline feel like a complete work. It’s another intensely satisfying long-player from one of the most unique and inventive forces going in contemporary creative music. Most importantly, this holds up on re-listens, setting it apart from other similar oddities that not only lose power easily but overstay their welcome as well, two things Skyline expertly avoids.