Music

Yann Tiersen's 'Portrait' Is a Fresh Interpretation of Past Glories

Photo: Richard Dumas / Courtesy of Mute Records

Amelie composer Yann Tiersen teams up with a coterie of collaborators on Portrait to revisit works from a 25-year career, with poignant and reinvigorating results.

Portrait
Yann Tiersen

Mute

Over a quarter of a century straddling the musical worlds of soundtracks, post-rock, chanson, ambient, drone, and electronica, French pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen has carved out a flourishing niche as a cherished purveyor of limpid neo-classicism. His profile was afforded some heft in 2001 with his beautiful score for Amelie. Recorded predominantly live on analog tape at his home studio in Ushant in cahoots with a host of luminaries such as John Grant, Gruff Rhys, and Stephen O'Malley, Portrait is ostensibly an exercise in fuggy nostalgia. Tiersen revisits old favorites and adds three new offerings. Yet the project hums with a freshness and an immediacy that override any concerns about over-familiarity or self-congratulatory indulgence.

Spread across 25 tracks and 97 minutes, the record plonks Tiersen's elegant chops at the forefront of the project, augmented and embellished by the tasteful and mellifluous tones of a purposeful choice of touring ensemble players including Olavur Jakupsson and Jens L. Thomsen.

From the earliest strains of "Introductory Movement" (featuring sterling work by O'Malley), Portrait provides pure catharsis and flashes of wistful tenderness. The composer's innate melodic gift provides an emotional anchor to a record steeped in remembrance, loss, and renewal, where moments of elegiac wonder, restrained tension, and luxuriant lyricism abound. Tiersen's progressions can appear simple and suggest sentiment. Yet, they carry a deceptive, smoldering intensity that eschews the drift of ambient mood music, exuding an elegant technicality and autumnal melancholia.

Pivoting around swelling strings and gently cascading piano melodies, Tiersen's best work possesses a harmonic stability that's as idiosyncratic as it is lush, intricate, and yet direct. Gruff Rhys delivers a typically affecting vocal on the gorgeous and beguiling "Monochrome", while "Old Man Still Wants It" plows an ecstatic rapture with its Steve Reich-like keyboard figures.

Elsewhere, John Grant and O'Malley combine to thrilling effect on the spoken-word "Thinking Like a Mountain". The new version of "Rue des Cascades" presents Tiersen at his most spine-tingling and velvet-lined, "Waltz for Monsters'" unnerves with its juxtaposition of toy piano, choral voices, and synthetic bass drones. The use of a cast of collaborators to overhaul and tweak classics from his catalogue elicits an extra dimension or two in even the hoariest of set-pieces, charging the more well-known material with a forlorn sensitivity and a brooding majesty that fits the overarching air of mournful nostalgia like a glove.

Despite it representing the staggering breadth of an artist's multi-faceted career, the music assembled here is best enjoyed as one fluid, cohesive unity: Portrait is playful, idiosyncratic and expressive.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.