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A Flame My Love, A Frequency Ollie Zhang , October 25th, 2017 17:26

Cécile Schott takes her delicate lo-fi soundscapes into new territory.

One constant to Colleen’s ever-evolving approach to music-making has been the way she delicately assembles her lo-fi soundscapes - it’s also one of the most alluring qualities of her discography to date. Despite remaining restless as an artist and changing her approach each time she gets comfortable, her style has remained distinct across eight albums and 14 years.

A flame my love, a frequency continues a delicate line of thought first established on 2003’s Everyone Alive Wants Answers. That sample-based debut sketched out her musical sensibilities, establishing stylistic staples such as her wispy and delicate arpeggiated melodies. Such sounds have endured across the folk-tinged tones of Les Ondes Silencieuses, as well as on the record where she made her singing debut, The Weighing of the Heart. Cécile Schott has moved from sampling to processing the sounds of her viola da gamba, then on to singing and now onto synthesis.

Ambient, pastel-hued and introspective, A flame my love, a frequency shies away from the fact that it marks a fairly significant shift in Colleen’s musical trajectory. Her use of dub effects on a baroque instrument like the viola da gamba has become her signatur - 2015’s Captain of None received the most press of her career thus far for precisely this unique approach.

The new record is somewhat unsettling, for a number of reasons. Partly because of the ambiguous, slightly stunted way the album’s title reads. And partly because of the absence of string timbres that have become her signature - her use of delays and arpeggiated melodies are distinctively Colleen, but it’s a stark departure from the dub-infused viola da gamba sounds of previous work such as Captain of None. That has been set aside in favour of Critter and Guitari pocket synthesizers, as well as Moog effects pedals.

Ethereal, pop tinges colour the record. ‘Separating’ features vocals that are so saccharine, one hardly notices the bizarre way in which they’re panned. Colleen has always been adept at sliding unassuming but eccentric production under the ear. ‘Summer night (bat song)’ paints images of animals fleeing in no direction whatsoever, as if in slow motion. With a bird-watcher’s sense of patience and attention to detail, Colleen crafts watery, organic timbres. In ‘The stars vs creatures’, they almost pass as plucked strings.

There has always been a sense of melancholy in her work, but it comes to the foreground with A flame my love, a frequency. It opens with a track entitled ‘November’ - Schott began working on the album a few weeks after 13 November 2015, when Bataclan and other venues were attacked by terrorists. Though she no longer lived in Paris, she had spent that day in her old hometown, taking her viola bow for repair in the late afternoon. In the weeks that followed, Colleen began to compose the songs that make up A flame my love, a frequency. Each song was recorded live with minimal post-production, and vocals recorded without overdubs.

A flame my love, a frequency is a modest, introspective album. It focuses on the small, the minute, turning inwards in the face of questions too large to grasp. Contained in her live recordings and with minimal tools, A flame my love, a frequency is fleeting. Within a cultural climate of over-production and hyper-attention to gear, it evidences a vulnerability often absent in music today, surprising in more ways than one.