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Yann Tiersen
∞ (Infinity) Dale Berning Sawa , May 20th, 2014 07:58

Rumours of a new Yann Tiersen album always come with the promise of something magical - each one is a doorway, a porthole, a picture book of sorts. The thrill of his arrival in the early 90s, along with Dominique A and the Têtes Raides, just doesn't fade. Infinity - his eighth studio album to date, released this week - is a picture book of the best kind, all waxed paper and stormy skies and age-old languages (the songs are in Breton, Faroese, Aidan Moffatt's Scottish English and Icelandic) and a myriad sounds accumulating ...

Tiersen started recording in Reykjavik, with simple toys, in reference to his early work, and slowly built these small things into 10 epic tracks through a constant back-and-forth between analogue and digital, live recording and electronic manipulation. From Iceland, work on the album took Tiersen back home to the island of Ushant off the coast of Brittany, on a roadtrip through Cornwall and Devon and to the Faroe Islands. For an artist whose live performance inspires such an ecstatic response, this incremental, layered approach works surprisingly well. The intensity and immediacy of the performance remain intact in the melodies, the vocals and the rich instrumentation, while the whole is expanded and enriched by the kind of sounds - and spaces - only recording and reworking permit. You get the impression that, if he could, Tiersen would have waves and moraines and thunderous storms join him on stage.

Infinity begins with 'Infinity', the sort of song you might imagine hearing in space or at the bottom of the ocean. A swaying melody  - which you instantly recognise as the Tiersen of old - emerges slowly from a fathomless depth of sound (Biosphere's Shenzhou, and William Basinski come to mind), as if the Breton were playing into the roar of a waterfall or the fracas of a volcanic eruption. You feel it more than you hear it, before it finally surfaces into raindrops and a man singing in the quiet distance, flowing seamlessly into the second track, 'Slippery Stones'.

Stones are a recurring motif throughout the album. A first listen sends echoes through my mind of Norman Maclean's paean to the Big Blackfoot River canyon in A River Runs Through It And Other Stories, "Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters..." The album's lyrics are run through with a similarly profound mineral seam. 'Ar Maen Bihan' and 'Steinn' tell the same story in Breton and Icelandic respectively, a mesmerizing Russian-doll-style descriptive tale that starts with "Deep in the rock there was a house / In the middle of the house there was a hearth / In the hearth there were some ashes ...", the things and their places getting smaller and smaller until you reach a coat pocket containing a stone. The vocals are sung close to the ear, more whisper than chant, in stark contrast to the throbbing monochromatic almost-drones in which they are couched, strong bass and tense strings and pulsing slow beats. The YouTube trailers for Infinity were mysterious single shots of surging seas and flooded beaches, dark greys and deep blues and ominous cloud, and much of the music here conjures up such images. Tiersen is a master of the evocative, music you can see, and here he has succeeded in bringing to the fore the landscapes he sought out in the making of the album.

After the storm comes radiant sunshine, and 'Lights' is just that, a euphoric dancing piece with tolling bells, keys that buzz and pulsate and a canon-like chorus sung over and over, with the energy of Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens - it's a beauty.

In 'Meteorites', Aidan Moffat weaves the last yarn over luminous looped voices: "My heart could be a stone, it's a sponge, it's a balloon, it's a lonely rock with a fiery tail falling in your atmosphere, burning up and breaking down...". This final track opens out the album, with great lightness and warmth. The last minutes of the track see Moffat speaking in his singular, captivating way about kisses over a harmonium and a singing saw and a lingering luscious toy bell melody. These are moments you want to keep with you forever.