Le Fumeur de Ciel
iving in a major city, I rarely experience an undiluted night. The unblinking street lamps blot the stars, and traffic congests the silence. Night signifies the setting of the sun of and the closing of stores—it has lost much of its unique character in the lit urban maze.
With his debut album, Julien Neto seeks to recover the allure of the night. His compositions—calm suites of brooding strings, foggy synths, and barely-there glitch-beats—swoon with mystery, a mystery both seductive and unsettling. Le Fumeur de Ciel unfurls a blue-lit world that disturbs despite its stately stillness ad entices despite its gloomy temperament.
The pieces on Le Fumeur de Ciel flow so smoothly that transitions between them can pass unnoticed. Neto clearly has a knack for crafting a coherent big picture, but this approach robs the album of the clear standout tracks that make a first listen compelling. Indeed without your undivided attention, the album may tick by unnoticed. But listen hard and you’ll hear an attention to detail belied by the languid grace of Le Fumeur de Ciel.
For example, Neto’s subtle glitches sound insignificant under the swirling drifts of sound, but they coalesce into intricate patterns that reveal Neto’s considerable rhythmic talent and command of the stereo field. “IV (Keats)” features his best examination of rhythm. While strings soar and sink, the beat hops channels and slides through the mix. When the listener finally grasps the beat, its beauty is magnified by its delicacy. The process is like examining a single snowflake in a blizzard.
Neto is at his best when the beats are buried. “VI” mars a wonderful contribution from Keith Keniff (whose album as Goldmund is highly recommended) with a plodding hip-hop beat and too-slow synth hisses. When an album verges on stasis—as Le Fumeur de Ciel does—it can hardly afford a track that wears out its welcome.
Despite this misstep, Le Fumeur de Ciel is consistent and elegant. Unfortunately, its consistency is also its greatest fault. One can only take so many measured melancholic mood pieces. By the last quarter of the album, your attention will inevitably drift. But after being impressed, soothed, and unnerved for a bravura half-hour, the listener can use those last ten minutes to drift to sleep in Neto’s moon-streaked night.
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2005-07-06