isown, Delete” was dying summer incognito. Chan Marshall’s faded voice, barked by smoke, drink, and her notoriously recalcitrant shyness, over Olivier Alary’s—or Ensemble’s—slow-dawn of acoustic guitars, strings, and curled static edges captured the season’s stunted end as well as Nelly Furtado ensnared us in its first green. Much like Manitoba’s Up in Flames, it combined wall-of-sound largesse and psychedelic super-realism with muddied studio-husking. Oddly economical for its six-plus minutes, Marshall brought out the earth in Alary’s billowy soundscape, and as such soundtracked the deep-bleached sky and papering air of this late season.
In the process, Alary—who issued his debut, Sketch Proposals, on Rephlex Records in 2000 and has worked with and remixed Bjork—pushed his self-titled Ensemble release to the summit of blog-anticipation. Besides Chan Marshall, Alary corralled guest singers like Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow, Mileece, and Camille Claverie, and while none of the other cuts rivals the pillowed Spector-folk of “Disown, Delete,” his collaborations prove to be Ensemble’s most compelling cuts. Mileece fronts the wispy, faded-leaf pop of “Summerstorm,” turning crinkled tufts of guitar-stringed static and an extended saxophone bridge into a strangled breach of sound and song, at once recognizable and uninhabitable). Where Marshall suffuses Alary’s compositions with a sense of the rough and well-used, Mileece covers his pulpy noise with a fluid gloss, proving an interesting counter-lead to Marshall. Barlow, too, sounds velvet comfy in Alary’s pin-pricked ambience on “One Kind Two Minds,” where sea-drenched pianos, slow, gurgling acoustic guitars and Fennesz-like ambience plump his soft, windwood voice with feather.
Ultimately though, Ensemble struggles to fill in the corners around its lead collaborations. Alary’s atmospheric drift lacks the psychedelic brow-kneading of contemporaries like Fennesz, Caribou, or just about any artist in Type Records’ stable, and he often stumbles without a vocalist to highlight his more subtle melodic textures. Both “All I Leave Behind” and “Loose,” with Mileece and Camille Claverie respectively, are retread Stereolab pop, so anonymously pretty they’d make Julia Stiles blanch. The field recording “”Unrest” is a misplaced gush of wind in a cabin of empty space, while “For Good” mixes shifts of dense rain with the breeze wristing the trees; both mine the excited silence of an orchestra getting ready to play, the crowd stirring for the last time before first sound, awaiting the conductor’s nod, without ever starting the movement. Their attempts at dense comfort now made loud and unruly by their contextual lifelessness.
Despite these missteps, Alary has clearly proven himself an artist of intrigue in the making. He’s marked by a lack of compositional focus when forced to work completely on his own, but if he can evolve without the shadow of the Chan Marshalls and Bjorks of the experimental pop frontstage, he may well yet fuse a remarkable brand of static-folk. Until then, leave the windows open to the glad glycerine breath of this early fall and play “Disown, Delete” until winter’s new.