Yann Tiersen | Dust Lane (Mute)


Dust Lane communicates nearly every aspect of being human in just under an hour.


It’s not an accident that Yann Tiersen sounds like a classically trained musical prodigy who also happens to listen to as much punk rock as he does anything from the late Renaissance baroque period. But it’s also no coincidence that French baroque is one of the strongest elements of Tiersen’s sound. The word “baroque” means “misshapen pearl,” which was a fitting description of baroque music. It redefined and reinvented almost every aspect of music 400 years ago. Tiersen, a self-described “music anarchist,” shares that spirit, and his sixth studio album, Dust Lane, shows it more so than any of his previous releases—it’s beautiful yet chaotic; subtle but cacophonous; weary as well as optimistic; and as sophisticated as it is primal. Dust Lane communicates nearly every aspect of being human in just under an hour.
Tiersen, the French composer/musician best known for providing the music for Jean-Pierre Jennet’s film Amelie, began playing the piano at age four, the violin at age six. He grew up receiving classical training from various European music academies, all the while listening to the post-punk music of the time. Dust Lane sounds as much like Frederic Chopin or Philip Glass as it does Joy Division or Cocteau Twins, a fact that surely has something to do with this dichotomy of early influences. But the album isn’t simply a schizophrenic bit of nostalgia.
What started out as a simple album idea Tiersen had sketched out on acoustic instruments slowly morphed into a collection of diverse songs containing piano, harpsichord, accordion, drums, strings, beds of vintage analog synths and fuzz driven bass (amongst dozens of other instruments). Dust Lane is full of serene themes that explode without warning into elaborate arrangements, suddenly fall away into a single piano line then redevelop in a completely new direction. It is a true musical amalgamation that defines itself not by the breadth of its influences, but by the unique way in which it reinvents these influences in one another’s presence.
The album is Tiersen’s most fervent, heartfelt work to date, a reflection of Tiersen’s experiences during its gestation period.
During the two years in which Tiersen wrote and recorded Dust Lane he lost his mother and a close friend.While it’s dangerous to view an entire piece of artwork through the lens of a single event like the loss of a loved one, it’s hard to ignore this biographical information when listening to the album. But it sounds as much like an observance of life as it does a requiem for the dead. This juxtaposition can be clearly heard on “Ashes.” The song starts with a few deep pulsing hits on the piano (reminiscent of the knell of a funeral bell) and some fragile tremolo violins, evoking visions of falling ashes. A couple minutes in, the song turns and a cortège of acoustic guitars, mandolins and percussion instruments march the song to its finale. A mixed choir, accompanied by drums and distorted guitar, sings, “All in all, we’re only ashes floating in the wind.”
“Ashes” doesn’t sound like a simple indulgence in catharsis stemming from the loss of life. Instead, it seems rooted in the will to be undaunted in the face of death; it sounds like the acceptance of death transformed into the celebration of life.
Near the midpoint of the album, the song “Chapter 19” serves as somewhat of a reinforcement of the album’s themes. The lyrics—sung by singer/guitarist Matt Elliot—are based on Henry Miller’s novel Sexus (Book One of Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion). As source material, Sexus (a semi-autobiographical novel that moves from detailing Miller’s divorce from his first wife to his marriage to his second) fits interestingly with Dust Lane’s explorations of infinite cycles, death, and rebirth.
Chapter 19 of Sexus itself is a relatively short chapter that takes the reader through a New York City ghetto at sunset as the narrator discusses how different the ghetto looks at the end of the work day once “the dust settles down.” The second verse of Tiersen’s song includes the lyric, “…a hope which is physical as well as spiritual, a contamination which is dangerous but salutary. All goes round and round.” These haunting words are sung (in a very sullen yet poised Jarvis Cocker-esque manner) over an assemblage of agitated accordions, synths, drums and the most unorthodox string arrangement on the album. And once the cacophony suddenly dies on the word “nothing,” a harpsichord and banjo revisit the song’s melodies in a far more sedated reprise.
The final song of Dust Lane, “Fuck Me,” is arguably the apogee of the album’s unique beauty. The song opens with acoustic guitars, banjo and mellotron as the seraphic Gaelle Kerrien sings with Tiersen about “falling into a deep oblivion” and needing to decide what to do in the face of “a never ending mess.” Ultimately the two singers decide the moment needs to be shared together, and unabashedly request that each other “get undressed,” and, “fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, and make me come again.” Aside from the arresting harmonies, there’s a certain sincere candidness that cleans the expressions of all their vulgarities.
As instruments add on and the sound swells, the heart of the song evolves from a primal instinct to the most complicated, essential human emotion when the lyrics transform into “love me, love me, love me, love me, and make me love again.” By the time this transformation is complete the song is in full swing, and a choir revisits the latter half of the lyrics until the entire track fades into a collection of woodwinds. Immediately, Dust Lane begs to be listened to again and again. A | Matthew Treon
RIYL: Sigur Rós, M83, Cocteau Twins, Nick Cave,


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