Alcest - Shelter | Album Review | By Volume

Gotta get out, before my heart explodes. Candy Says - Not Kings
shelter

Alcest

Shelter

Alcest have crafted something quite beautiful.

Comments (0)
Author: on January 20, 2014
8.6
DisManic / eOne

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’ve never listened to Alcest before. I have heard about them certainly, and was never anything less than curious about their brand of “blackgaze”, or whatever the hell people call music’s most interesting-on-paper hybrid, but I had never sat down and actually listened to them. Normally a reviewer is supposed to feint knowledge, like some oracular scribe or scepter-wielding guardian of The Gate of Culture. This is never really true and we all know it, so instead of pretending like you’re an idiot staring up at the Olympian of culture, in awe of my vast knowledge of the universe, that is, of the blogosphere, I’m going to right away tell you I know shit all about Alcest. This is all to say that my review of their latest, Shelter, has none of the formalities that every other review will inevitably touch upon — like how this is their furthest deviation from their black metal roots yet (oops, there I go breaking my own promises again, how Icarian of me). Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a shit. I just want to talk about how goddamn pretty this record is.

Okay, okay: so what, it’s a pretty record? Too often, it seems, “pretty” is a lazy adjective that is either meant to crown a band in a halo of ham-fisted ejaculate or deride them as shallow and simplistic. So when I write that Shelter is a pretty record, rest assured that I mean this as more than a simple aesthetic measure. Because, sure, when the opening introductory fare of “Wings” breaks into the jangly shoegaze-pop of “Opale”, the immediate reaction to those chiming major chords is something along the lines of: “my God, they’ve done it!” But as these eight tracks progress toward the squalling climax of “Deliverance”, “pretty” takes on a form greater than a reactionary adjective; it becomes the defining gesture encompassing a particular song-writing dictum. All come hither: pretty chords abound! Shelter is the elusive form of pretty that bridges the gap between a word that once meant “cunning, skillful, and creative” to its latter use as “attractive, and skillfully made,” and finally to “fine, in a slight way”. It packs in a prettiness that is equal parts “skillfully made” and “attractive”. It’s cunning, too, the way that those heavy, distorted chords seem to leap out of nowhere on the epic “Voix Sereines” during its second half climax.

But when it comes right down to it, it’s not that difficult to make “pretty” music these days, or at least, music deemed to be “pretty” in terms of particular groups of audiences. A little bit of EQ humping, a dash of reverb, some strings, a certain mixture of major and minor chords, more reverb (that shit’s like Cumin, there’s never enough): bam! You’ve just covered a serious lack of song-writing chops and creative thought with production techniques. To that end, there’s an inevitable cynicism trailing close behind any praise of a record’s prettiness. On Shelter, though, prettiness stands for more than aesthetics — it is a mode that channels a host of themes, coating them in a particular spackle. Caching, manoeuvering, engineering: all are adjectives describing an active host, and such a kinetic maelstrom is rarely filtered through the lens of beauty. In the end, it’s these adjectives of action that best describe the all-encompassing mantra of Shelter. It’s an album delicately and meticulously crafted by Alcest to not just sound pretty in a passive sense, with its shimmering layers of guitar atmosphere standing ever so still, almost painterly, but to envelope what that word might connote, testing the limits of where such a subjective and deceptively straightforward emotion might lead.

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