It’s an engaging conceit — the folk balladeer’s whispy, sometimes almost stagy voice hovering over deconstructed, ambient soundscapes — and Eric Chenaux nearly pulls it off on Slowly Paradise, a new LP out last week via Constellation.
Well, like I said, nearly.
For those willing to give Chenaux the time, the compositions [say, the somber ”Slowly Paradise (Lush)”] can sometimes border on the masterful. Chenaux pastes together scraps of disjointed guitar bits, digitized and warped beyond any traditional kind of recognition, and composes moments of real beauty. (The solo on the closing track is EPIC in all caps.) At his most cerebral, Chenaux channels the work of pioneers like Cheer-Accident’s Thymme Jones, no stranger to crooning over deconstruction, whose voice Chenaux occasionally parallels.
But, for those looking for a concept to play out in shorter epiphanies, look elsewhere. Chenaux’s work often demands more than just a little focus and more than just a little willingness to give over enough time to the work to flourish. Yes, ”There’s Our Love,” the ”single,” is a well-wrapped, even inventive package of musique-concrete. But opener ”Bird & Moon,” despite an epic jazz solo for Atari-distorted guitar, lingers longer than it needs to, and, at times, feels like its 8:30 run-time is a conservative estimate, at best. Songs that stick to more recognizable forms of presenting un-amplified electric guitar, like the excellent and divisively quirky ”An Abandoned Rose,” fare better, without a doubt, but there’s a lot of material on the 41-minute-long disc that makes it feel twice as long — not always in a good way.
Chenaux closes the LP with an epic — the drowsy refrains of ”Wild Moon” — and here his somber timbre fits an unexpectedly spare accompaniment with apparent ease. But it’s not enough to save a record that occasionally drowns in its ambitions. Chenaux is clearly onto something and might even require a second generation of those inspired by him to perfect the delivery. Yes, yes, it’s an engaging conceit he’s cooked up here but, as a record, a collection of compositions made for aural dissection and — dare I say — aesthetic pleasure, it’s not as brilliant as it could be.