On Björk’s 2004 album Medúlla, Ensemble’s Olivier Alary assisted in co-writing “Desired Collection” with the Icelandic singer. And while it’s Björk’s magnificent voice that sparkles over the corruptive synth-line that sounds like something off The Eraser, pleading, “How am I going to make it right?” the presence of Alary stands out on one of that album’s most direct songs. The sheer essence of it, the understated use of electronics and layering of Björk’s voice over the verses, commanded a delicate hand and Alary notably delivered. On Excerpts, as Ensemble, Alary presents a newly defined sound and with it, a precarious skill in honing in sharp classical strengths for a successful release.
As the title most fascinatingly attempts to chronicle, the album’s music is rooted around various passages and extracts taken from Alary’s music catalog. The title track is a reflective presentation of beckoning drums and frail, raindrop-like string work that willfully dance to a sturdy rhythm. Though different pieces are sure to make their way, Alary changes up the pace with a female singer that is able to soothingly win over the listener’s ears. And while Alary’s scope is ambitious in reaching for seemingly ‘never lived but surely imagined moments,’ the music is a tranquil escape.
With “Things I Forget,” the chamber music may simply pronounce Alary’s cunning ability at blending strings with vocals but the abrupt spoken word dialogue relays a deeper message. While the opening strings portray a soft-spoken beginning, the song ends with a calamity of instruments swirling around a violin’s initial melodic line. Throughout many of the album’s moments, the themes and moods often come in circles and it causes moments where the aforementioned song can sound distinctively close to something like “Valse des Objets Trouvés.” The latter; however, serves as a melancholy segue that also happens to feature some more spoken dialogue. Translating as “Waltz of the Lost and Found,” the music is ominously dark and fittingly well-structured as primer for film scores.
Much of Excerpts seems to suffer from a lack of identity and occasionally it’s unfairly so as Alary simply tries to squeeze in as many ideas onto an album that is designed exactly for – just as the title hints – small selections of music. On “En attendant l’orage” Alary sounds like he is singing directly off of Heartland with a rousing energy and soulful movement and later, on “Envies d’Avalanches,” an acoustic guitar and stream of consciousness sounds eerily close to Destroyer’s softer days. But like a Dan Bejar or Owen Pallet, Alary compliments his many strides in life with various shifts in mood. While the songs all sound distinctively dissimilar from one another, the splendid array of shifts and styles is welcome. Entirely instrumental, whether it’s his voice singing or another, or something as especially sweet as “November 22nd,” Alary displays a terrific arsenal of sounds.
By the time Excerpts has come and gone, like the music hints at as well, the end result is always what you take from it. Music never has to be about the most outlandish ideas and often, the ones from the heart stick the longest. Alary’s Ensemble has clearly moved forward with a determined sound that is both remarkable and still, inconspicuous.