Thursday 25 October 2012

Cheval Sombre - Mad Love

Album review by KevW

Since people began experimenting with new ways of producing music in the late 1950s, there's been an alternative lineage that's run alongside popular music; you could think of it as a parallel universe where experimentation and innovation have evolved outside of the mainstream, almost as if hiding in its shadow. These roots can be traced back to garage originators The Wailers and sound explorers such as those at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Then came The Velvet Underground who took tender acoustic songs and embellished them with drones and unorthodox production and arrangements. There's been a continuation of this work running in the background of popular culture ever since, and even before hearing a note of the new album from New York's Cheval Sombre you can tell he's become a part of it.

One of the leading lights in keeping this spirit alive and the subterranean flame burning is Spacemen 3/Spectrum legend Sonic Boom; anyone acquainted with his work will spot those familiar fingerprints all over this record, alongside him are long-time collaborators Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (Galaxie 500, Luna) and recent space adventurers MGMT. The credits read like a who's who of blissed-out, psychedelic sonic exploration, and like that illustrious list, many of the songs on 'Mad Love' have bare acoustics at their heart which are then coated in electrical drones, organ and strings, creating a sound that feels not of this world; the very same effect crafted by The Velvet Underground, Spectrum and Galaxie 500; this album almost feels like the baton of true psychedelia being passed from one generation to the next. All of these songs could be stripped-back, but those magical sounds that augment each track feel essential in continuing this legacy.

And so the gentle strum of 'Someplace Else' is doused in antiquated organ sounds and minimal electric guitar speckles; it's like watching a kaleidoscope in slow motion, as is the cover of traditional folk song 'Once I Had A Sweetheart'. Possibly the best introduction to these magical sounds comes with the stunning 'She Went Walking In The Rain' which is something akin to The Dandy Warhols finding a massive spark of inspiration, or maybe the hallucinatory dreamworld conjured up by 'Walking In The Desert'. The lengthy drones of 'Couldn't Do' and 'February Blues' may be lost on some people, but to others they're a simply beautiful and shimmering noise with hypnotic properties, just like the rest of this gentle and otherworldly journey. Ending with the reflective and maudlin 'Let Me Follow You Down', it really does feel as though Cheval Sombre has taken you on a journey. 'Mad Love' is an album to get lost in and a triumph for sound, and you know popular music's mysterious underbelly is in safe hands.

Cheval Sombre's website

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