We Await Silent Tristero's Empire
aybe when you’re actually getting paid for it, you have to listen to whatever album the editor deigns to shove your way, but for those of us in the more free and easy terrain of the volunteer music writer, there’s still the problem of selection. Oh, sure, I can drive over to Stylus’ vast warehouse of promos and cherry-pick a few tempting ones to tide me over for a few weeks, but what is it that causes me to pick A and not B? The answer is painfully mundane but also, I think, overlooked: They are the exact same sort of often irrational, idiosyncratic reasons that lead the non-writing listener to give a particular album a shot.
In Chef Menteur’s case, I obtained their first album/clearinghouse purely because of the abiding love I have for Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying Of Lot 49. Those who have read it probably already noticed that We Await Silent Tristero's Empire’s title comes directly from the book, and although this “collection of songs, psychedelic improvisations and low-fi experiments” bears no real relation to the strange adventures of Oedipa Maas aside from the title, something eerie, silent and a little sinister lurks at the heart of both.
In sound the New Orleans outfit often veers close to the extended, gorgeous formlessness of bands like Stars Of The Lid or | head | phone | over | tone |, with occasional dips into bursts of noise. They claim to prioritize “texture and mood instead of rhythm, harmonics over melody” on their website, and scattered among the longer pieces on this album are short tidbits that don’t do much beyond establishing a feeling before evaporating. They’re not bad, with the dusty Western guitar loop of “Maida Vale” and the brief, sitar-aided “Paysans De La Mer” in particular providing refreshing interludes, but mostly they’re just distractions from the big slabs of sound that compose most of We Await Silent Tristero's Empire and leave the most telling impressions.
“Europa” begins the album sounding like an out-take from Eluvium’s masterful Talk Amongst The Trees album, but soon some muted drumming comes in. Only some of these pieces were recorded after Chef Menteur became a full band (as opposed to Alex Vance and Jim Yonkus working as a duo), and “Europa” is one of the strongest indications that adding Mike Mayfield and Chris Sule on drums and percussion was a good choice. For most of its seven minutes “Europa” is dreamy motorik, but eventually it ends in a hollow explosion, jolting the listener back to full awareness. “Caverns Of The White Widow,” Hammer Horror title aside, is the gentlest track, small curls of feedback and tentative organ welcoming you into its confines.
“Pointu II” and “Io” end the record with twenty-seven minutes of similarly epic proportions. The former pits a grinding feedback howl against persistent organs before the organ eventually sputters to a halt, exhausted. “Io,” meanwhile, bears some resemblance to Spacemen 3’s ambient “Ecstasy Symphony,” or maybe Canadian shoegazers SIANspheric’s “Where The Planets Revolve, I Wish I Was There” but is, if anything, even less hurried. The sound does ebb and flow during “Io,” but at the time it sounds seamless.
Probably the most telling track is also the most incongruous; “W.A.S.T.E.” was made using only a computer and segues from deadpan beats into sunnily pastoral acoustics and handclaps, before fizzling out in static. With regards to composition, tools, sounds, and most other measures it should stick out like a sore thumb here but it doesn’t. It just sounds like Chef Menteur. Their willingness not only to throw caution to the wind to build an intelligible aesthetic but also to show us the places where that aesthetic spills out into interesting directions means that despite the one-size-fits-all nature of a collection like We Await Silent Tristero's Empire it’s hard not to feel as if you’re in good hands with this band, and that their eventual first album proper won’t be one worth waiting for.