Benoît Pioulard – Lasted

Benoît Pioulard - Lasted

Benoît Pioulard - Lasted

Recording under the pseudonym Benoît Pioulard, Portland’s Thomas Meluch has staked out a singular sound which blends acoustic guitar-based, melodic songwriting with swaths of low-key drone, keyboard accents, subtle electronics, and rickety percussion, resulting in a sublimely downcast whole. Lasted, his third full-length album for Kranky, was released the same day as the C-40 Valley – an exploration of his (even) lower key, drifty, textural side. This side still finds its way onto Lasted, and in structure, this new album is pretty much exactly like his old ones, interspersing shorter ambient pieces throughout a playlist of otherwise singer-songwriter type songs. Though it seems Meluch simply enjoys creating both styles, this approach works in his favor by breaking up the listening experience, preventing the monotony that can creep into low key music of this sort.

Lasted is so of a piece with previous full-lengths Précis (2006) and Temper (2008), that you could jumble them all together and split them up equally three ways and the discography would not be too worse for wear. That said, there are some subtle shifts in compositional style occurring between the early days and the present. The most noticeable is that the melodies now tend to be more attenuated and drawn out. On a song like “RTO”, you wonder just how far the melody can meander and trick you with false returns before it starts a new cycle. Going back to Précis, those songs were catchy because they were lush in a folksy chordal sense. Since Temper, Meluch’s songwriting has been incorporating more cleanly picked guitar lines and less strumming (exceptions here include “Shouting Distance”, “Ailleurs”, and “A Coin on the Tongue”). Also, the bells that used to color the songs with sprinkles are mostly traded in for an instrument that sounds like an underwater piano, and plays a bigger role in providing compositional counterpoint, most notably on the title track and “RTO”.

The ambient noise interludes have a calmer, more reflective quality this time around. “Purse Discusses” begins with a tape recording of a train blowing its horn, slurred by playback, producing a strange intimacy. “Gloss” is a feather light drone pulse which would fit right in on the Buddha Machine. “Nod” is a full blown piece, consisting of five minutes of a static drone blooming and then tapering off. If Meluch ever decided to abandon melodic songwriting, he could still keep releasing high quality records as an ambient drone artist.

With his music, Meluch has carved out a unique fidelity as much as anything else. Neither lo-fi or hi-fi, and with a voice multi-tracked to sound slippery and of ambiguous depth, this fidelity exists in some in between state, a ghostly purgatory where the weather is always just a little strange. Accenting songs with effects that sound ethereal, gossamer, and elegiac is one thing, but Meluch’s works are those things, only at an essential and fundamental level. It’s like he’s making gauze instead of touching something up after the fact to sound a little gauzy. In the end, what really makes Meluch such a treasure is his personal approach to artistic sensibility. You get the feeling he is a fan of many different types of music, and has challenged himself to integrate everything he likes into a cohesive voice. With Lasted, he’s now risen to the challenge three straight times.

Benoît Pioulard