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Eric Chenaux
Say Laura Guia Cortassa , February 21st, 2022 09:20

Canadian crooner builds a little merzbau in your soul, finds Guia Cortassa

Interviewing Eric Chenaux in 2018 about his Slowly Paradise album, John Doran described the achievement of the Canadian musician as a “unique sound that manages somehow to be both accessible and challenging, cerebrally engaging and genuinely moving, psychedelic and prepossessing.” Four years on, a new album by the guitarist and balladeer still proves this characterisation as the truest possible.

Now at his seventh release with Constellation records, longtime listeners of Chenaux will find in Say Laura the distinctive sonic palette that the Montreal-born, France-based songwriter generated in his career, made of trumpeting guitars, fuzzy reverbs, and distorted picking; melding (semi-)improvised, jazz-adjacent guitar and a full songwriter croon; and once again enriched by the help of Ryan Driver, providing lyrics and the occasional Wurlitzer.

There is an untethered quality to Chenaux music. Vocals and guitars play a game of tag in his tracks, only with the pursuer at times swerving abruptly away from the one who is chased, and taking the listener with them, down the same unexpected directions that the greatest works of improvised music have taken. In his 1978 book The Jazz Life, Nat Hentoff recalls this exchange between a lecturer and Thelonious Monk during a jazz class at Columbia University:

“Would you play some of your weird chords for the class?”

“What do you mean weird? They're perfectly logical chords.”

Monk a tutelar deity to Chenaux, the apparent ‘weirdness’ is a trait they share and that makes the listener stay, mesmerised by the Canadian’s approach to the guitar. Experimenting with a prism of carefully studied effects and styles, the musician builds a Merzbau of sound, a habitable structure made up of found objects. “My music plays with what has been left behind and dropped on the ground. These things were left on the ground to lighten the load so that those in the past could get somewhere more freely and less encumbered. To shed cultural threads,” he explains in the release notes, adding “When we encounter these things that have been dropped we are altered so that in fact the space between ourselves and the space between ourselves itself does not hold the same weight. I care about everything in song. And who cares?”

Juxtaposed to this avant-garde attitude is a deep taste for more traditional songwriting, especially for love ballads. This yang to the guitar yin is expressed by the warm, embracing vocal delivery. More than any other time, here, Chenaux’s singing is profound yet airy, opening even more possibilities to the already multifaceted soundscape, adding glimpses of melodies and touches of pop.

This riveting marriage peaks in the two main tracks of the album, ‘There They Were’ and ‘Hold the Line’. Both more than ten minutes long, they serve as fertile ground for stretching the limits of action – the former presenting the musician soloing and singing together for the first time in his career, creating smoke circles of words and psychedelic wahs. The latter is a perfect night-time, neo-folk gem of vocals, a lullaby exploding on an abstract arrangement, evolving in an eight-minute instrumental impromptu — the real coda of the album, the perfect closing just before a radio edit of the title track comes up to remind us that there's a different reality for music out there.

This constant shift between dream and reality, between the ground and a consciousness-expanding dimension, is what makes Eric Chenaux records so precious and unique. The ultimate and safe mind-altering experience. Not to be missed.