Sungenre Album of the Month – June 2018
French musician Melody Prochet returns under her moniker Melody’s Echo Chamber with Bon Voyage, the highly anticipated follow-up to her critically-acclaimed 2012 self-titled debut. Bon Voyage manages to simultaneously outshine, compliment and enhance her first effort, with a multitude of intricate layers, innovative songwriting techniques and lush production combining to form an instant classic.
If the last album could be described as sounding like a blissfully-naive autumn haze, this one more closely resembles the stark reality of a cold winter. But that’s not to say it’s an isolating listen. Far from it – the seven songs here act like a warm, tender embrace. But Prochet’s intensely melancholic sonic explorations suggest she wrote much of this album from a place of physical and emotional distress, as additionally hinted to via her self-stitched chest wound in the album artwork. Much of the lyrical content understandably points to a relationship falling apart (perhaps in reference to her former relationship with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who produced her debut). But it should also be noted that 12 months prior to the album’s release her family announced in a statement that she had been hospitalised due to a “serious accident”. It’s unclear at this stage how much of the album had already been completed at that time, but it would seem foolish to exclude this serious event from one’s interpretation of what is being presented here.
The album opens with an inspired chord progression delivered by acoustic guitar, kick drum and bass on “Cross My Heart”, building to a short, beautiful string overture which ushers in the propulsive, steady beat of the remainder of the near-seven minute track. The instrumentation immediately recalls the unmistakable sound of Swedish psychedelic rock band Dungen, with three of their members in Gustav Ejstes, Reine Fiske and drummer Johan Holmegard lending their talent to this record.
“This is a promise to my heart, I can’t keep falling from so high,” Prochet sings in her trademark breathless soprano. She adds, “and all the oceans keeping us apart, and the seasons passing by”, in lines brimming with similar lyrical ambiguity and vocal melodic structure to those contained within Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973). The established chord progression and instrumentation is abandoned by just the 1:33 mark, when a series of layered vocal scatting and crisp bubble pop production takes over, accompanied by Psychedelic-Erik’s flute. The following passage is sung in French, rather than English – serving as the first of many switches in tongue (Prochet also sings in Norwegian on this record). The song arrangement takes full shape after the five-minute mark, locking into another tight groove which serves as a cinematic outro with strings.
Although “Cross My Heart” was first released on Prochet’s 30th birthday last year, it would appear that the following track, “Breathe In, Breathe Out” is intended to be considered the first official single. An upbeat earworm, it is perfectly positioned in the track listing. Similarly to the first track, the arrangement is cleverly delivered in a disjointed manner with several distinct sections. But it is by no means rambling or lacking direction – clocking in at just 2:50, it is a carefully considered and elegantly constructed indie pop song.
Track three, “Desert Horse”, another single, will no doubt strike the majority of first time listeners as being very weird – a common first impression of true innovation. It opens with ominous, sweeping synth chords and quickly locks into a queasy, exotica style groove. Its direction remains unclear well into its first minute, when it takes a propulsive four-bar sojourn driven by heavy guitar and percussion, in a style not dissimilar to some of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s recent output. A vocoder performance takes centre stage for the next portion of the song. “So much blood, on my hands, and there’s not much left to destroy, I know I am better alone,” she sings softly. The midway point of the track is punctuated by a grating guitar tone, yelling and screaming. The subtlety and effectiveness of Holmegard’s drumming during a brief Portishead-esque juncture at the three minute mark needs to be singled out and commended. Later, arpeggiated and reverb-drenched guitar notes deliver a passage in a style reminiscent of Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997).
“Var Har Du Vart?” (“Where Have You Been?” in English) is a stripped-back acoustic guitar and vocal duet. At only 1:28 in length, it might strike first time listeners as half-baked. But there’s far more on offer when you scratch the surface. Despite the bare-bones approach, the song structure and chord progressions are indeed unusual and complicated, like all the other tracks on offer here. Likewise, the lyrics contain a thoughtful, poetic beauty, as evidenced in translated lines such as “I’ll see you in front of my eyes when I’m blind”.
“Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige” is an immensely catchy track featuring frenetic drum fills from Holmegard and utilising driving bass, bouncy synth and Mellotron strings to round out its lush dreamscape. Despite being the longest cut, it’s probably the most straight-forward song on this album – save for the unexpected, nonsensical spoken ramblings of Australian musician Nicholas Allbrook (Pond), who curiously pronounces “Just want to shit all over myself when I die, be proclaimed brain-dead or heart-dead in the Vatican,” halfway through.
“Visions of Someone Special, On a Wall of Reflections” kicks off with acoustic guitar and organ, but really takes shape when the heavy, busy bass line and electric guitar chords enter. As with most of these tracks, there is just so much going on in terms of constant changes of instrumentation, chord progressions and song structure that it becomes almost impossible to describe the song in words with any degree of accuracy.
The opening moments of album closer “Shirim” sounds like it could plausibly be a pitch-shifted sample of John Coltrane from his transcendent experimentation period. A glitchy, electronic undercurrent supports a modern disco groove with instrumentation and crisp production reminiscent of Tame Impala’s Currents (2015). Given the history there, this could certainly be interpreted as a very pointed statement on the songwriter’s part, especially when you take into account the lyrics – “I’m feeling kind of low, I’ve listened to your song, I wish I enjoyed it ’til it reached my soul”.
Bon Voyage is simply superb. No matter your initial reaction to it, this is an undeniably innovative and complex album which will, if you let it, grow on you and have you reaching for repeat for days. With each listen, you will find something new as you peel back its multitude of layers and uncover new meaning. Its production team, headed up by Prochet, Swahn and Fiske, ought to be commended – this is an album which sounds great through car stereo speakers, cheap earbuds and top of the range headphones and monitors. It’s an instant classic in our book and will be a firm favourite to top many ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year.
Bon Voyage is released Friday 15th June via Fat Possum Records.