Benoît Pioulard – Précis

Much ado has been made about 22 year old Benoît Pioulard (real name: Thomas Meluch). Some are singing his praises while others write him off as an inexperienced charlatan. However, the fact that Précis is so astounding has next to nothing to do with his young age. Meluch has managed to produce an album so full of poise and beauty it would be a total shame to dismiss it.

First there’s his voice. Elliott Smith is a decent reference point but Meluch bears an even stronger resemblance to The One A.M. Radio’s Hrishikesh Hirway. Then there’s the sound of Précis which combines rickety acoustic guitar with elements of Brian Eno’s ambient works and to a lesser extent some processed guitar in the vein of Christian Fennesz. The entire thing is literally dripping with reverb including Meluch’s vocals. Unlike other artists or bands who sometimes use reverb to disguise the flaws in their songwriting, on Précis it establishes an interesting dichotomy of distance and warmth. Right down to the cover art the album plays like a photograph taken with vaseline smeared across the camera lens.

“La Guerre de Sept Ans” which translates as “The Seven Year War” is an instrumental guitar piece that leads into “Together & Down.” This track’s crooned vocals and clip-clopping percussion set the tone for all of the non-instrumental album tracks. Meluch’s guitar strumming on top of this is like a feather falling on a pond. The overall effect is achingly gorgeous. Other tracks on the record conform to this template without falling into the trap of becoming tedious and boring. Meluch’s songcraft is some of the finest I’ve seen this year from a new artist next to Beirut’s Zach Condon. “Moth Wings” sounds like an outtake from Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror (one of my all time favorite Eno records). “Palimend” is another of the album’s highlights, with delicate fingerpicked guitar parts, wood block percussion, and tinkling bells.

To sit and pick apart the songs one-by-one would do the record a great injustice. It sounds and plays like an extremely cohesive whole. Each song leads perfectly into the next but is easily strong enough to stand on its own. Rarely does an artist or album come along this fully formed this early on. If we’re lucky enough to get a second Benoît Pioulard record he’s going to have a hard time topping this one.

2006 has been a landmark year for Kranky. Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet and Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Lisbon are nearly flawless. That’s not even counting the other awesome releases by Chihei Hatakeyama and Charalambides which are both incredibly good. With the addition of Précis the label is nearly batting 1000. Benoît Pioulard’s debut for the label is easily among the year’s best.