Photo: Courtesy of Thrill Jockey via Bandcamp

Colleen’s ‘The Tunnel and the Clearing’ Takes Us Deeper Into Her Fuzzy Analogue Sound-World

Colleen has struck out on a course all her own and continues to inhabit one of the most distinctive sonic terrains today, as on The Tunnel and the Clearing.

The Tunnel and the Clearing
Thrill Jockey
21 May 2021

Colleen’s last LP, 2017’s A Flame My Love, A Frequency, was an album that sounded both like any other record from the last five years and, paradoxically, like nothing else on earth. There are a million artists going for the same sound as Colleen (real name Cecille Schott)—hushed, chamber pop vocals paired with liquid keyboards and dreamy analogue soundscapes. So what sets Colleen apart?

For one thing, the French producer’s approach probably has more in common with that of minimal composers like Pauline Anna Strom and Terry Riley than with the factory-produced, pop-inflected tones of her contemporaries. There is a richness and singularity to Cecille Schott’s music that is indescribably unique. Two decades into her musical career, she remains committed to wresting the most beauty and heartache from the littlest instrumentation possible. Her earliest material was crafted from looped samples of library music; her late 2000s work focused on sparse string arrangements made with the viola da gamba. On A Flame My Love, A Frequency, she created her most complete album yet with little more than a Critter and Guitari synthesizer, delay pedals, and her voice.

Schott understands that simplicity is the hallmark of all innovation. And on The Tunnel and the Clearing, her eighth studio album, she continues in this vein, furthering her distinct brand of minimal, organ-driven dub-pop. The result isn’t radically different from A Flame My Love, but then again, why should it be? Colleen’s last album opened up a sonic treasure trove so deep and so immersive that we could plumb it forever and still not reach the bottom.

Tracks like “Gazing at Taurus – Santa Eulalia” highlight everything Cecille Schott does well—a vintage drum machine overlaid with bubbly, waterlogged synths and her signature half-whispered vocals. The Tunnel is an album of rich, porous analogue tones, occasionally veering into kosmische territory on songs like the title track. Here, the use of filter pedals and delay effects makes the synth lines blur together so that everything sounds spongy and smeared at the edges. It’s a sound that’s both hypnotic and trancelike but also warm and enveloping.

“Implosion-Explosion” plays at a faster BPM than your typical Colleen track. True to its name, the song carries along like a ticking time bomb, wah-wah synths and wordless vocals fluttering over the lead drum machine. Indeed, if there’s anything that separates this LP from its predecessor, it’s the emphasis on rhythm. In addition to her usual synth gear, Schott uses an Elka Drummer One on several of the tracks here. The drum machine gives the music a retro-future vibe in keeping with the analogue textures throughout.

Cecille Schott’s last album was born out of tragedy—she was in Paris when the 2015 Paris attacks happened, and the lyrics dealt heavily with the fragility of life. In the process of writing the Tunnel and the Clearing, Schott suffered from a previously undiagnosed illness, causing her extreme fatigue and delaying her musical output. Her resilience throughout this difficult time is embodied in the frequent references to Saint Eulalia, whose statue graces her home city of Barcelona. “Santa Eulalia is a statue that stands atop a cathedral spire nearby,” she says. “I saw her every day from my window and greeted her on my daily walk, and she ended up becoming my own personal symbol of resilience in this troubled year.”

Just as Saint Eulalia stands as an emblem of hope in Barcelona, The Tunnel stands as one for Schott and, in turn, the listener. It is a meditative, almost prayerful album—the opening lyrics are “Awaiting a revelation / Anticipating a revelation / Truth, reveal yourself to me / Truth reveal yourself to me.” And on the last track, “Hidden in the Current”, she repeats that she “finally woke up”. Is this in answer to the first track, a beck-and-call to her pleas for revelation? Probably, but it isn’t entirely clear.

What is clear is that Cecille Schott has struck out on a course all her own and continues to inhabit one of the most distinctive sonic terrains today. Her music is too bighearted and alive to fall in line with most kitschy, modern-day dream pop. On The Tunnel and the Clearing, she takes us even deeper into her fuzzy, dubbed-out analogue sound-world. Who could ever want to leave?

RATING 8 / 10