Monday, March 31, 2008

Tout Seul dans la Forêt en Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur? by Woelv

Woelv is multi-instrumentalist Geneviève Castrée. Québécoise by birth, she now lives in the Northwestern United States. Tout Seul dans la Forêt en Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur? [All Alone in the Forest in Broad Daylight, Are You Scared?] is her attempt to understand the American mindset, partially by going deep inside herself (as in "Sang Jeune [Young Blood]"), and partially by putting herself in the mind of characters she has no connection with (such as "L'homme qui vient de marcher sur une mine [The man who stepped on a mine]").

Since the entirety of Tout Seul is sung in French — a language I do not speak even passingly, though I occasionally recognize a few words that have similar counterparts in Spanish, another language I know only slightly better — it is even difficult to grasp on the most basic level without help. Luckily, the liner notes have been translated into English.

But I listen to music mostly at work, where reading liner notes would be inconvenient at best. So, I decided to make the leap and take Tout Seul at face value, treating Castree's voice as just another instrument. (Therefore, be warned that any song titles here in English are merely my attempts at translation.)

Castrée (who sometimes appears on others' records under Geneviève Elverum) is the wife of Phil Elverum of the Microphones, Mount Eerie, and D+. He is one of my favorite artists, and his presence is deeply felt throughout Tout Seul. His voice appears on "(réconciliation)" and "Deux Corps [Two Bodies]" and his typically heavy drumming features on "Drapeau Blanc [White Flag]" and "La Petite Cane dans la Nappe de Pétrole." Others are less specific, such as the guitar on "(réconciliation)" sounds like the one he used on "The Moon" (from The Glow, Pt. 2).

Castrée's voice carries similarities to Mirah and The Blow's Khaela Maricich with an occasional belt of Bjork and a bit more soft palate. The most effective track on Tout Seul was "La Mort et le Chien Obèse [Death and the Overweight Dog]," which punctuates a rolling bassline and multi-tracked vocals with Castree's howling — left and right, far and near — until it dominates the soundscape.

On the downside, Tout Seul is only 36 minutes long (including the 12-minute title track, two-thirds of which seems to be a slowed-down recording of an airplane taking off). Each track seems to reside in its own emotional space — which can be a little jarring when three songs of around one minute's duration appear one after the other — but the spare instrumentation (is that a cello on "Sons Mon Manteau"?) is the thread that binds it all together. Repeated listens reveal further depth, but all in all, this kind of subjective musical journey is difficult to critique, as it is by its very nature so intensely personal.

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