Yann Tiersen cannot be mentioned, perhaps sadly, without his majestic 2001 Amelie soundtrack being talked about.
It must be hard moving on from that. It was, in short, one of the all time film soundtrack masterpieces. He is far from a one hit wonder and has since proven his knack at creating imaginative, beautiful and inspiring music. Maybe he has never quite hit that high again.
His songs often sound like an old fashioned toy shop and all the wonderful toys therein. The ticking, the tinkering, a magician at his bench, tampering with his formula. You know, from a time before machine technology, when people crafted things with their hands and children’s toys were beautiful. Now, not every toy is beautiful or loveable, but it was once made with precision and thought. Yann Tiersen is the old fashioned toy maker. Not all the ideas work, but he challenges himself and moves in and out and away from and around his past formula. His tinkering regularly conjures magic.
This album starts with a near thunderous kind of peace. It’s a somewhat timid, sparse and gloomy track until the strings come in and the essence of hope in much of Tiersen’s music is renewed.
When an idea works, he truly is spellbinding. When it doesn’t work it’s a little uncomfortable, though his exploratory nature is admirable.
One of the oddest parts is that Yann Tiersen’s voice is made with physical instruments. His instrumentation is often lovely. But to that end some of the vocal parts don’t seem to fit. A past line of guest singers has at times rendered a song better, but mostly it felt like overdressing and destroying a song. Like it just wasn’t necessary and the song worked perfectly purely as an instrumental track. It happens here too. More often than not the vocals don’t enhance the song, and perhaps even impede it severely. It’s not always the case, but if it’s aimed to widen the commercial appeal I’m not sure it achieves that.
Tiersen is a great modern composer with many influences and it comes across on his never ending search via song. Vocals aren’t needed to disguise what is mostly brilliant composition. English lyrics are also questionable. A feeling that French might fit better can’t escape, though other songs visit several other tongues and the idea machine is hard at work. Each note lovingly plucked and strummed at the end of track two just reminds us why he doesn’t need a vocal part. It genuinely feels surplus to requirement on most tracks.
When Mr Tiersen explores the aforementioned unknown areas he is at his best, undoubtedly.
Here one of the highlights is the extraordinarily gorgeous track is ‘Ar Maen Bihan.’ It eases in like a ship sailing out into black waters. It has a sense of uncertainty. There are curious and delicious spoken French words, and the ship slowly speeds up. Then, revealing its wings, it takes off, soaring into the sky like a bird in a frantic bid to escape its earthly shackles. Truly it soars. It’s not like anything he’s done before and it’s exquisite. Again, it proves what is possible for the creator and how little vocals are necessary. Four songs in is the first time the mind is blown.
‘Lights’ sounds like the toy maker is hard at work at his bench making toys for children for Christmas. Then the vocals once again start up and seem to render the beauty of the instrumentation void.
The sixth track, a venture into Icelandic, is a soaring and swooping track of cinematic proportions. There is much here to marvel at. More ideas in one album than some in a whole career. It creates something a little like a boat ride on choppy waters. It makes you think, makes you feel something, and it enlivens the senses. For any music to manage that is an achievement.
It’s an odd album. Some wonderful moments and some which seem to have been somewhat distorted or spoiled even. There’s no denying there is an immense talent here, whether he once made a great soundtrack or not. He likes to explore and tinker. Perhaps next time if he entirely cut loose of expectations he really would make another classic. It seems like he’s already found his voice, it’s just a little lost in the pool of ideas.