Alcest – Kodama (2016)


cover_600

After Les Voy­ages De L’Âme I tuned out of Alcest a bit. While that album con­tained the gor­geous title track and the intense “Faiseurs de Mondes”, the rest felt a bit lackluster. Follow-up Shel­ter didn’t really register for me either in the long term, des­pite its bright and pleas­ant shoegaze emphasis. A hiatus like that makes you approach a band’s new album with appre­hen­sion, but in the case of Alcest’s latest, Kodama, I need not have wor­ried.

The album has a crunch that had been miss­ing from the Alcest sound for a few years, and many listen­ers have been rightly point­ing out that this marks a par­tial return to the sound on Écailles de Lune. At the same time, the songs on the album — des­pite deal­ing in the famil­iar dreamy chord pro­gres­sions — feel more dir­ect and less floaty than I would have expec­ted. The black metal vibe that reached its peak on Le Secret is back, giv­ing tracks like the mel­an­cholic “Je Suis D’Ailleurs” the abil­ity to punch.

In fact, all three of the first songs have that rougher edge; they’re tracks that aren’t afraid to meander a bit while touch­ing upon all the things that made the band such a wel­come addi­tion to the musical land­scape: melod­ies and riffs with a sense of long­ing, the con­fid­ence to wed aggres­sion to ten­der­ness. Almost more of a sketch than a com­plete song, “Untouched” nev­er­the­less stands out as one of the most com­pel­ling tracks on the album. After the slightly more com­plex earlier tracks, this one’s simple struc­ture con­tains pre­cisely the right hooks.

I also feel that the PR cycle sur­round­ing the album improved my listen­ing exper­i­ence the first few times. By the time you get to “Oiseaux de Proie” four tracks with a great flow have passed already. Then, when that song starts, you’re like “hey, I’ve heard this one before; was quite good, wasn’t it?”. The res­ult is that — not count­ing the outro-ish “Onyx” — the album ends on a famil­iar note, and the gen­eral sen­sa­tion you’re left with is that this is Alcest as we’ve always known them. There’s the tiny part of me that gets slightly annoyed at this, and wishes there was some­thing more sur­pris­ing in there. But I don’t want to end the review on a sour note. Kodama is sat­is­fy­ing from start to fin­ish; not just a return to form, but a great album in its own right.