It’s an odd phenomenon that Benoit Pioulard’s music is simultaneously some of the most intimate and most distant that one man could possibly create. Each Benoît Pioulard song is like a quiet moment between songwriter and listener, a quiet and closely held secret, with whisper-soft vocals and gentle plucks of guitar over a ruffled pitter-patter of beats. And yet that voice, those guitars are bathed and bandaged with static and noise; one will scarcely come across a song on either Temper or 2006’s Précis that’s left completely bare, without effects or white noise skating across its surface. What’s more, Benoît Pioulard is the recording project of one Thomas Meluch, a sole singer-songwriter who not only chooses not to use his own name, but doesn’t print it in liner notes, nor do they contain any photographs of himself.
There truly is something mysterious about Thomas Meluch, or Benoit if you prefer, though after having released his second album, his artistic persona has come more clearly into focus. Sophomore album Temper is similar, in many aspects, to prior effort Précis. Each song is as oblique and as curious as the soft-focus object on the front cover, yet equally beautiful and with a more clearly defined shape (most of the time). Meluch writes pop songs, just ones that don’t cater easily to a stereotypical definition of `pop.’
Within first track “Ragged Tint,” however, Meluch immediately shows off something new. Rather than bleed into an amorphous melody, Meluch fingerpicks furiously at an acoustic guitar, ramping up the drama and the suspense, even as his soft baritone remains a sedate foil to the anxious techniques at hand. “Ahn” teases with a folky series of plucked riffs that suggest a simple, unadorned performance, but before long, a warm ambience and a commanding shuffle of drums usher in a breathtaking and rich-toned blanket of aural bliss. Meluch opts for a winding, swirling waltz on “Golden Grin,” and nearly floats away in the ambient frolic of “Physic.” It isn’t until the chorus in which the song begins to reveal its most intriguing moments; Meluch’s voice becomes the instrument that carries the song, ascending in knotty staircases and reaching toward something unknown, but glorious.
Many of Temper‘s songs are like illusions; when listening, unheard or unacknowledged parts come floating toward the surface. “Brown Bess” sweeps in simply enough, with Meluch’s trademark acoustic strums and effects-laden atmosphere, but breaks down into a chorus/interlude that’s subtle but sinister, eerily transitioning into a haunting melodic depth. “A Woolgathering Exodus” combines an old world sound with modern undertones. Warm synth tones bleed beneath a hammer dulcimer, forging an unlikely but mesmerizing pairing. Even Meluch’s transition pieces reveal more interesting sounds and approaches, from the fuzzy guitars of “Détruisons Tout” to the slightly detuned sounding keys of “Cycle “Disparaissant.”
While Temper may show a greater range to Benoît Pioulard, it also seems to create more curiosity. The noises are more intriguing, the ambiguity of instrumentation seems even more compelling, and Meluch, himself, merely shows off an even stronger handle on songwriting. If anything it bolsters the argument that sometimes, a little mystery can be a really good thing.
Atlas Sound – Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
Tim Hecker – Harmony in Ultraviolet
MP3: “Brown Bess”
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.