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Eric Chenaux
Skullsplitter Oobah Butler , April 7th, 2015 12:30

Since 2006, every couple of years Constellation Records gives the stage to their far out balladeer, Eric Chenaux. Emerging on the Canadian East Coast in the early 90s, Chenaux has long collaborated with avant-garde filmmakers, contemporary dance acts, and musicians. Working in conjunction with galleries for residencies all over the world, he embodies the modern DIY artist. In recent times, he has fine-tuned his approach to his own music with label Constellation, simplifying aesthetics but indulging in a grander vision.

Skullsplitter is his fifth album; characterised by his awkward and off-kilter flair. 'Have I Lost My Eyes?' begins the record in a kind of warped, desert island crawl. It's as if the tapes are melting in the sun as the Chenaux's sixth chords slide and fall apart. Eventually, we break into erratic waves of sound; they should bath the listener, but their unpredictable irregularities are stringently relaxing. I think that is what it is to be Eric Chenaux: inescapably unhinged. You can imagine that generally, Skullsplitter is an effort to pen concise ditties but it is his edification and background in the avant-garde that prevents songs like 'Spring Has Been A Long Time' from resembling something you'd expect from the English folk troubadours of the early-seventies, and make them so much more.

Skullsplitter is driven by the theme of the seasons, as seen in the lyrics ("spring has been a long time coming"), song titles such as 'Summer & Time', and the four separate movements of the record. Through this obsession, the developments stutter and jump as oppose to naturally progress, and can seem a little contrived at times. These broad progressions lack cohesion and are predictable; losing you time and again as the timbres are cast aside for something unrelated to that what's come before it. One constant throughout the record however is bare instrumentation. Whilst it is minute and subtle, the styles in which Chenaux engages are far from that, and are thoroughly unconventional. He lures you into a sense of security with that simplicity and warps your expectations. The distinctive guitar style, misshapen as it plays, is a vehicle that defines this approach.

There's something deeply private about this collection. It's almost like finding that box under somebody's bed that was never really meant for anybody else's eyes and, as the guitars bend and warp and deteriorate, you flick through as many sketches and notebooks before the whole thing falls apart in your hands. The intimacy on pieces like 'Poor Time' or 'The Pouget' enables the experimentalist to develop a connection with his listener without the pieces having to move that much. With an air of self-pity, this warped and unique way of presenting himself can at times be fascinating, whether this is intentional or not, it doesn't really matter.

There's no doubt that this is a gorgeous collection, an exercise of experimentalism that is deserving of great respect. It's an effort however that's too self-aware to reflect Chenaux's dynamism as an artist. The first and third quarters of the record breathe and develop naturally, finding joy in the small, finer details: this resonates with the listener in an inspiring way. Relatable and haunting, the 'morning after' understanding captured between 'Skullsplitter' and 'My Romance' immerses the listener in a way that many releases struggle to. When Chenaux paints with these small strokes, he is able to achieve something grandiose and truly unique but the hyper-conceptualised aspects of Skullsplitter stack up uneven and indolent.