My album of the week this week is Skyline, by Yann Tiersen.
If the French musician’s name rings a bell, it might be because he created the score for the acclaimed 2001 film Amélie. But that’s just a small portion of his body of work, which features seven studio albums, three soundtracks, and several collaborations and contributions. After sampling some of his previous work and immersing myself in Skyline this last week, I have to assume only one reason he’s not a household name in America: we’re just too damn impatient. We want our blunt and immediate Katy Perry hooks, our thumping Flo Rida beats, our in-your-face Nicki Minaj *stuff* (whatever you call that). That’s not to say pop music is intrinsically awful – in many cases, it’s popular for musically valid reasons. I’m just saying we’re missing a lot of really good artists like Tiersen because they refuse to smack us over the head. It’s rare that well-executed subtlety pays off in the Western music scene, at least when you look at the grand landscape of “what’s popular”.
Sure, every now and then a group like Bon Iver does it just right and explodes onto the scene, but as a society we have a pretty high threshold that must be crossed to reach these levels. When you consider the limited capacity for well-executed instrumental acts in our collective popular consciousness, it’s a wonder that sans vocals post-rock groups like Explosions in the Sky or This Will Destroy You gain any traction at all. Although a good portion of that is probably directly attributable to the success of Friday Night Lights.
I mention Explosions in the Sky especially because Skyline fits into this post-rock approach of builds and crescendos in which the attention is primarily focused on the blend of instrumentation, although Yann does bring some vocals here. My 5-second synopsis is that Skyline comes off as a pretty good blend of Explosions and Sigur Rós, but it’s way too complex for such a gross oversimplification to suffice. There are all sorts of sounds that come out to play on the album, mostly generated by some massive combination of guitars and synths, but no two tracks really use the same mix – Tiersen does a great job of mixing things up while keeping a wistful dreamlike soundscape at the root of it all.
“Another Shore,” the album’s first song, progressively adds layers as it develops, much as El Ten Eleven might construct a song but with more electronics and fewer double-neck guitars. There’s a huge build as it progresses and the rest is basically tinkering with dynamics; it’s a magnificent instrumental and perhaps the strongest piece of the album. “I’m Gonna Live Anyhow” turns the Dreamy Knob up to twelve and adds some Bon Iver-like wide-ranged vocal harmonies. Both of these tracks, although completely different, present a flawless balance between acoustics and electronics, and the result may compel you to stay under the covers forever.
Also, don’t watch the video for “Another Shore” if you get depressed easily.
“Hesitation Wound” is full of fluttering synths and trippy sonic imagery, but it’s more dream- than drug-inspired. I think. There’s urgency in “Forgive Me,” and if he wanted to, I’m sure Yann would have no trouble finding it a home in the soundtrack for an award-winning independent film. There’s a story to each track, but you don’t really even need the words to follow along. Sure, there are vocals to most of the songs, but the voices work more as another functional instrument than providing explicit meaning through their words.
I’m keeping it short and sweet this week. Guys, put down your Red Bulls, cheeseburgers, and Carly Rae Jepsens long enough to enjoy the sublime buffet set out by Yann Tiersen this week. Use it for studying, daydreaming, nightdreaming, reading, whatever. Tiersen is already pretty big in Europe, and the gorgeous dreamy majesty of Skyline proves that he deserves to be big everywhere.
(1) Another Shore
(2) I’m Gonna Live Anyhow
(4) The Gutter
(7) Forgive Me
(8) The Trial