French composer Yann Tiersen has released the music of EUSA before, but in the form of sheet music. Fans of Beck can tell you that such an idea can only take you so far. In an age where most of us are expected to multi-task during every second of our day, precious few of us have the time to sit down and learn to play a new piece of music. Recordings talk, no matter how cost-ineffective they may have become. So Tiersen sat down at his piano and recorded EUSA‘s ten songs and an additional eight improvisational numbers. So much for inviting people to “work” for art — we can all go back to preparing our child’s lunch while on a conference call.
EUSA is a nice listen overall, even if you aren’t acquainted with its context. The album’s title is the Briton name for the island on which Tiersen lives (also known as Ushant)and various compositions are named after particular spots on said island. Field recordings are collected from these spots and are then mixed into the final product (the sheet music was accompanied with positioning coordinates and pictures of the scenery). The eight improvisational interludes are numerically named with the word “Hent,” meaning “path” — something that is meant to guide you from one point of interest to another. The music is often pretty, sometimes pedestrian, and sometimes punctuated with great profundity. If it isn’t completely consistent in quality, it is at least consistent in mood and artistic intent. Tiersen wants to take you on the easiest walking tour of his stomping ground that circumstances will allow, and EUSA isn’t pretentious enough to exclude anyone from the trip.
EUSA isn’t like most recordings released on Mute. The most electronic thing about it is the use of a microphone. Stylistically, the music easily flows inside the minimalist vein of neo-classical music, despite Tiersen’s admissions to not being classically trained. Parsed from broken chords and tonally polite harmony, the music on EUSA achieves its brief periods of transcendence when melody and accompaniment meet up for that indescribable x-factor. “Kereon”, “Penn ar Roc’h”, “Kadoran”, and “Enez Nein” are prime examples of such easy magic.
It wouldn’t be fair to rule the remaining tracks of EUSA as sub-par. It’s just that, when Yann Tiersen is on, he’s really on. And when he’s not, it’s just kind of nice and that’s all there really is to it. If you are primarily familiar with Tiersen through his score for the film Amélie, beware that you need to re-calibrate your mood accordingly for this collection. Strip away the bells and the accordion, trade the pep in for bittersweet grey shorelines, and you should be well on your way.