Époques by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch

Release date: July 13, 2018
Label: 130701

Three years after the release of her debut, Paris-born, London-based composer, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch has returned with the enthralling Époques on FatCat imprint 130701. In fact, her new album was released precisely 17 years to the day after the label’s launch. Back in the spring of 2017, however, Levienaise-Farrouch headed to the Suffolk coastal town (and former home of Imogen Holst), Aldeburgh. Here she laid the foundations for much of the music contained on this record. Initially sampling Holst’s little upright Church Walk piano, the pieces which she recorded in Logic were then re-recorded live once she had returned to Goldsmith’s Studio in London. This has resulted in an album that is both atmospherically wrought and entrenched with juxtaposing themes of darkness and light.

The track ‘Overflow’ contains a clear demarcation of this clash between opposing states. Two notes call out into the glorious unknown. Increasingly agitated with the lack of response, despondency sets in and then becomes truly forlorn. Shadows spread like storm clouds marching in from the sea. A bassy presence injects its abject ideas into the murk. This is a battle for the spirit, fighting not to succumb to the gloom of existence. In spite of that, the subterranean gurgles that see this track out suggest that hope may not have been victorious. Similarly, on ‘Ultramarine’, we experience what can only be described as the soundtrack to an encroaching apocalypse. Over the domineering growls and bowed rumbles of an obtrusive tenebrosity, vibrant chords of conviction ring out. This sliver of light stands little chance though and it is the blackened throb of distant violence that has the final say.

Despite this, the struggle between shade and luminosity is not always won out by the darker side of Levienaise-Farrouch’s music. The title track, for example, is far more forthright. Here the gentle nuance of suggestion is replaced with arms demandingly spread at the fore. Fingers all pacing and marching across monochrome keys, weaving an air of frantic revolution into the melody. Verging on delirium, it maintains a shrill sense of duty to its cause and then collects itself amidst an urge to defiantly shriek. Then on ‘Bleuets’ the light patter of feet dancing across an iced-over lake is conjured. Cracks appear behind each step. Imperceptible at first but soon of noticeable length, breadth too. Splintering off in all directions as the dance picks up pace. A whirl of light and a brush of breeze. The ice now bowing with every footfall. Yet it holds firm. The dancer will not disappear into the cold unseen. Not today.

Époques is as much about what is contained between the notes as it is about the central melodies. ‘The Only Water’ sees a chug like a train in a tunnel joined by softly sawed violin. A collection of ambient sounds serve to simultaneously place and disorient in an oddly dizzying fashion. This is then followed by the slow, descending steps of a cello which, surely unintentionally, seems vaguely reminiscent of the Jonathan Creek theme. This is music that can transport you to other places, other times. A stumble of loops debate each other gently on ‘Fracture Points’. From sprightly string stutters to grouchy and persistent depressed keys, this gives the impression of an animated discussion around a lively family dinner table. All points argued from different perspectives, all rarely conceding, yet all related and providing the tonal cohesion that keeps this from spiralling into utter enraged dissonance. By the end, the hymn sheets have been synchronised and they all begin to sing.

Throughout this record, a warm cloud of creaking ambience accompanies Levienaise-Farrouch’s piano, lending a sense of comfort and familiarity. Making this seem as if it’s occurring in your presence. Creating a sense of intimacy. As the notes accelerate on the opener, so does our concern, we lean in, caught up by the urgency. Her flurries tell a story that ends with a twist as they slow to long sustained chords. ‘Redux’, the third track on Époques, seems to call out to comrades in loss. It extends a hand, an arm, a shoulder and whispers that you too can be pulled through this period and, in taking that hand, you will also help with the weight that seems so essential to her sounds. She wants us to know that, from this dark state, light can be found and it can be reached. And we can go on this journey together.

Then we have ‘A Trace Of Salt’ which, at the outset, seems diametrically opposed to this sense of hope. The sounds are disembodied and deconstructed. Worried strings seem to separate themselves. They detach and paddle in doubt. But, subsequently, thumbed bass notes appear to rescue us from this uncertainty. They light the way, set the course, and soon, once organised, all of the constituent parts know their goal. And that is to warn of something deeply foreboding. We must wait until the finale, however, before knowing the composer’s overriding stance on this binary fracas. Pairing paranoid shudders with a confident and buoyant piano lead, ‘Morphee’ appears to treat doubt and fear as characters to be faced and fought. Time and time again these skirmishes occur within her music and, more often than not, those agents of ruination come out on top. And with an anxious heartbeat swept up in bubbling incertitude, this seems to be the case yet again but Levienaise-Farrouch is not one to allow optimism to quit. She embraces the heart at the centre of her music and incandescence returns with an emphatic vengeance to magnanimously secure this metamorphosis from yowling doom into a vehicle for faith, hope, and fortitude.

Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch will be performing in the UK with label-mate, Resina (whose latest effort we reviewed here) at the back end of September. I strongly urge you not to miss them.

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