On his first two albums as Benoît Pioulard, Thomas Meluch blended noisy electronics and warm, intimate acoustic pop music in truly stunning ways. Yet Meluch always maintained a very elegant balance between the two. On both 2006’s Précis and 2008’s Temper, Meluch laid out a strong juxtaposition between his static-ridden instrumental pieces and his commanding indie folk, as if dubbing a mixtape alternately consisting of Mark Kozelek and Christian Fennesz compositions, with some extra creative damage inflicted on the tape itself just to slightly blur the lines between the two. That he was able to pull it off isn’t necessarily so surprising, but his ability to continually explore and expand upon these complementary ideas is what ultimately makes Benoît Pioulard such a fascinating artist.
Meluch’s practice of ambient and folk ping-pong has grown ever more spectacular on third effort Lasted, though in essence, Meluch’s approach remains largely the same. The basic sonic elements, the six-letter title, the faded monochromatic cover image – all the necessary factors that make up a Benoît Pioulard record remain in place. Rather, it’s what Meluch does with his sonic palette that makes Lasted that much stronger a product of his talents. His pop songs seem less obscured this time around, still employing distorted effects to varying degrees, but with more versatile arrangements and a more confident sounding singer at the helm.
While Benoît Pioulard isn’t known for being a singles artist, per se, Lasted features some of Meluch’s most dynamic and accessible songs to date. The standouts arrive between intervals of effects-laden haze and abstraction, but there’s a lot of them. “Sault” offers the somber, minor key balladry with clattering beats that Meluch is best known for, while “RTO” is a vibrant slice of dream-pop, akin to onetime labelmates Deerhunter’s more recent, glossy forays. A trace of victrola static introduces the breezy “Shouting Distance,” and the title track finds Meluch backing his sprightly waltz with a heavy dose of organ. Penultimate track “A Coin on the Tongue,” meanwhile, is one of the purest pop songs on the album, carried by a sweet melody and adorned with touches of flute and keyboard.
As satisfying as many of Lasted‘s pop songs are, they work even better in the context of the album’s whole. Just as Meluch has been refining his songwriting, so has he more brilliantly enmeshed the two aspects of his sound. The brief ambient interludes interspersed throughout the album provide fascinating, curiously beautiful bridges from one song to the next. As such, they serve to enhance the more accessible moments. The hazy warmth of “Purse Discusses” bleeds nearly seamlessly into “Sault,” and the elegant “Fluoresce” escalates, ebbs and flows like waves pulling toward the title track’s shores.
It’s a unique artist that earns recognition not just for a particular sound, but a sonic duality. Since the beginning, Benoît Pioulard has been about juxtaposition and contrast. And on Lasted, Thomas Meluch has allowed his respective pop and ambient sides to shine brighter, complementing each other while congealing into a dynamic and beautiful whole.
Video: “A Coin on the Tongue”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.