It's funny how things turn out. We who were there at progrock's birth were convicted the new mode was pretty much the be-all and end-all in music, and we remain so convinced, but, gawd almighty, did it take forever for its influence to soak in and be absorbed! Now, finally, just about everything that emerges into the market carries the 'progressive' sobriquet. Whether it really applies in all cases is a matter for a good deal of debate, just as claims of 'psychedelia' are oft highly questionable (the term means 'mind-bending' and is horrifically abused nowadays…and was, truth to tell, even a bit too often in its own founding era). However, certain saliences demarcate 'prog', 'psychedelic', 'acid', and other musics, and when Alcest claims progrock territory, it well deserves to, echoing later applications of the style seen in 4AD, Sigur Ros, Sipo, shoegazey jangle musics, and so on.
The duet's (cats sporting the mononyms 'Neige' and 'Winterhalter') promo lit, though, claims a 'pop' mantel for the enterprise, and I'm a bit taken aback. Has pop progressed that far in France, whence these illuminated souls hail? If so, I'm getting the hell out of Manhattan Beach and flying to Paris, there to take an apartment in the artists' quarter and shove my head firmly into a bottle of absinthe…which seems to be what Alcest itself has done 'cause a lot of this is dreamy, gauzy, effulgent, delirious, and heaven-utopian. As with Sipo's Year of the White Rose (here), the environments are at once vast and paradoxically almost claustrophobic. Everything is shimmering billowing clouds, simultaneously forever ascending while completely wrapping the listener up in their confines, obscuring far-ranging vision.
Unlike Freddie Sipo's shattering vocals, though, Neige and Winterhalter favor an echoic chorus harmony that's vaulting, inspirational, and deeply spiritual, kind of like space age Gregorian chant sieved through drugged plainsong. Slowdive's Neil Halstead makes an appearance on vocals, as do the strings from Amiina and Promise & The Monster while Sigur Ros' Birgir Jon Birgisson produced the affair. Alcest was pretty much the inventor of 'blackgaze' music, a cross between black metal and shoegaze, a riveting drone style, so Shelter isn't a very far cry from those origins, a natural progression minus all the defining guitarworks. Nonetheless, should you find yourself running out of Quaaludes and other soporifics any time soon, I strongly advise a resort to Alcest. You might not get to sleep as you'd intended, but you won't give a damn either, caught up in the splendor and beatification.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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