Cyann & Ben
istening to Cyann & Ben's Sweet Beliefs is, and bear with me for a second here, like watching a kitten wake up, yawn, and stretch in the decadently graceful way that only cats can master. Both processes are pleasing to most who witness them on a purely visceral level: One can evoke the kind of blissful eyes-closed listening bands dream of, the other “awwww”s from even the most macho. But there's also a sense that the agents involved could care less about spectators. Like a drowsy kitten, there's an inward-turning quality to Cyann & Ben's music, the sort of thing that when a failure leads to a sensation Stephen Dalton memorably termed “the sweetly subjective smell of your own farts,” but when successful produces a record that is insular in the best ways; self-sufficient and womblike, solipsistic but somehow comforting.
To begin with, the French quartet is almost aggressively unhurried. They make music that needs to be absorbed slowly and as a whole, and that doesn't seem to care much if you'd like to make the effort; they're so absorbed in reverie that as much as your participation is welcomed it's also wholly beside the point. The most telling song title here is “In Union With...” which trails off into nothingness just as the track itself threatens to for a full seven minutes. “Recurring” and “Sparks of Love” similarly curl and wind without care, sighing and cooing happily. Even the more overtly active likes of “Words” and “Let It Play” only pay token respect to traditional rock song structure. Refrains and ebbs, not choruses and verses, are the name of the game here.
This makes Sweet Beliefs almost perversely hard to get into; at first it's easy to tag the band as slightly twee and formless—and not worth your time. But if you let your body acclimatize, eventually Cyann & Ben's music opens up so that the soft focus reverse-dissolve of “Sparks of Love” is the best resolution possible, and the way “Recurring” collapses into feedback and radio ghosts is only slightly less satisfying than the way it earlier seemed to stretch into forever. Instead of saccharine the music refocuses as sweet and compassionate, no sin too big for it to slowly encompass, dissect, and forgive.
There are precursors for this sort of sound—“Sunny Morning” in particular reminds me of when I listened to nothing but Spiritualized's Lazer Guided Melody for a weekend, and the press release's conjuration of “Low picking Mogwai to pieces” is a favorite of mine for being totally factually inaccurate yet nailing the band's sound. But a few hazy, mostly hand waving comparisons aside, they pull off the difficult trick of occupying the vague nexus where shoegaze, psychedelia, and ambient meet without really bumping into anyone else. Other music might sound like Cyann & Ben and vice versa, but while this music softly unravels around you it's a struggle to think of examples.
Instead the band painstakingly craft an album that is so focused on its own sensual, joyous blurs that comparing it to other music seems pointless. This is no gateway drug, but if you've already got the ear for the gentlest, humblest kind of space rock imaginable (cloud rock?) let Sweet Beliefs whisper in your ear and you'll wonder how you got through the working week without its dulcet reassurance. It may sound aloof at first, but that's only until you crawl inside.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-09-11