Fidelity is just a state of mind. After 50 some odd years of rock music’s existence, there doesn’t seem to be any rule on how lo-fi or polished a record is meant to be. For every Loveless, Pet Sounds or Nevermind, there’s a Bee Thousand, Slanted and Enchanted or either/or to counter. And in every one of these albums, whatever the recording quality or technology, it’s part of what makes the album. And yet, there are plenty of studio and home recordings that somehow miss the mark. For Benoît Pioulard, the recording alias of Michigan songwriter Thomas Meluch, nothing more than a home recording setup is necessary to create an entire world of sound, one that no amount of studio sheen could duplicate.
Meluch’s latest, his first for Kranky and proper full-length label debut titled Précis, is, in a word, stunning. Meluch previously had released an EP in 2005 titled Enge, as well as limited run CD-Rs, but Précis reflects an entirely new spectrum of home studio magic. While Meluch’s songs, at their very core, are primarily simple, lo-fi indie folk, it’s what he adds to them that takes them from being good to absolutely mesmerizing. Like some sort of fantasy mash-up of My Bloody Valentine and Elliott Smith, Précis is an album of acoustics mixing with electronics, distortion, static and echo effects washing over pretty, graceful melodies. In a way, Meluch’s approach is similar to The Jesus & Mary Chain, utilizing noise and effects as instruments in themselves.
Précis is, at times, abstract, particularly in instrumental numbers like the opener, “La Guerre de Sept Ans,” the static-laden distant piano in “Moth Wings,” or the eerie bells of “Coup de Foudre.” These tracks, though wonderful in their own right, work more like transitions or bridges between the more accessible songs. “Together & Down” and “Ext. Leslie Park” are hazy, autumnal offerings, downcast yet striking. Meanwhile, “Triggering Back” is sing-songier, and more uptempo, a true standout that prances upon electronic beats and one of the most dazzling melodies on the album. Hand percussion, bells and marching drums drive the jaw-dropping “Palimend,” the album’s awe-inspiring centerpiece. Fittingly, Meluch’s vocals often sound somewhat distant and wrapped in subtle effects, making them sometimes as hazy as the music itself, but recording wizard that he is, does so in a way that merely adds mystique rather than erring on the side of over-obscured.
The bulk of tracks on Précis are rather brief; in fact, only four pass three minutes, and most of the instrumental interludes stand at less than two, all of which adds up to an album of around 37 minutes. This isn’t a problem, however, because each composition, no matter how brief, feels complete. The final trio of songs, on its own, provides a powerful trilogy of melodic wonder, and in just over nine minutes. “Sous La Plage” is only moderately adorned with electronic effects, coming off as engaging yet still subtle indie folk, as the next track, “Patter,” is actually a tightly structured instrumental with odd laser-like effects phasing in and out, only to close the album with one of the most immediate and anthemic tracks, the dreamy “Ash Into the Sky.” In both his mastery of sound and his impeccable songwriting talent, Benoît Pioulard, or Meluch, whatever you want to call him, has proven a maturity and brilliance that some might expect from someone much older. At 21 years old, Meluch sounds as gifted as they come.