récis is a debut album, but it’s hardly the work of a rookie. After self-releasing a wealth of cassettes and CD-Rs, 2005’s Enge EP, and a track on Ghostly International’s Idol Tryouts Two compilation earlier this year, 21-year-old Thomas Meluch’s has built up a healthy discography, even if relatively few people have been privy to it. Thanks to his new home at the perpetually hip Kranky label, Meluch should no longer have to worry about that. And that’s a very good thing for all involved, as Précis is a spectacular, fully realized debut and the best thing these ears have heard on the venerable imprint in a good long while.
Précis is less a collection of songs and more a gathering of wayward melodies wrapped in layers of sound. Meluch’s gentle, relatively simple acoustic-based tunes and breathy baritone are couched in layers of haze to the point where you aren’t exactly sure which part of the music to focus your ear on. This leads the eardrum to pick up the parts that it is used to listening for (like the treated acoustic guitar and vocals) through the sonic debris. The experience is at once disorienting and soothing, and utterly remarkable in the way it shifts and turns as it moves around your head, and as your head moves around it.
With an attentive listen through headphones, Précis can be a wonderfully textured recording full of remarkable details. Played aloud in a room at normal volume, it becomes a breathtaking sonic landscape that blends with any environment to take on an entirely new character. Picture the Jesus & Mary Chain’s seminal Psychocandy with the dense feedback squall replaced by field recordings, tape sounds, bells, and dulcimers and you’re halfway there.
All of this would be moot if the songs themselves were no good, and thankfully Meluch shows himself to be just as gifted a songwriter as he is a craftsman. From the dusky, hushed power of “Together & Down” to the sunshine pop of “Triggering Back,” Meluch never skimps on the tunes in deference to the production. It is precisely this ratio that elevates Précis from what might have been a less memorable work had the balance between sound and song been less even.
So what exactly does it sound like? Well, it sounds like a folk band playing in dense forest from forty yards away. It sounds like a grainy, jumpy home movie of your childhood vacation to the great Northwest. It sounds like what you might hear on a romantic late-summer picnic on Venus. It sounds like the album’s cover art. It sounds like nothing else you’ll hear this year.