A release i’ve been anticipating for a while came out recently: the self-titled debut EP from Alone Architect. Much of the best electronica-fuelled songwriting in recent times has emanated from Canada, and Alone Architect is no exception, being the project of Montreal musician Jeff Feldman. Feldman posted a couple of teaser tracks online some weeks back, one of which featured the unique vocalisations of Elsieanne Caplette, chanteuse of the outstanding duo Elsiane. The song in question, “The Incision”, proved absolutely captivating, and promised big things for Feldman’s forthcoming EP; it does not disappoint.
The EP comprises six tracks whose brand of electronica is dark bordering on nocturnal. But it’s not yet another generic exercise in pseudo-post-apocalyptic knob-twiddling; on the contrary, rhythmic drive and overt lyricism pervade Feldman’s darkness, adorning it with splashes of colour and lightening its heavy undertones. Opening track ‘Moth to Flame’ exhibits both, although with a sense of distance. Feldman spends some time establishing layers of accompaniment (drawing heavily on the spectre of late ’70s Jean-Michel Jarre), and when his voice finally enters, the lyrics are bent out of shape almost to the point of obscurity. However, this is more than just a song—the absence of a chorus in its structure reinforces the point—and its climactic moments are carried by music alone, the words falling silent. It’s followed by the goth-inflected “Not Alone”, sung by Angela Boismenu whose voice seems to combine the best aspects of Cher and Amy Lee. Laid back in tempo, it nonetheless packs no little punch in the choruses, a punch that Feldman ramps up as the song progresses. Lyrically, despite the convolution of its poetry there’s real passion here, made all the more potent by a switch to triplet rhythms in the middle 8 and the abrupt fragility at the start of the coda.
i mentioned “The Incision” before, and it remains one of the most striking songs i’ve heard this year. Feldman weaves an intricate, multi-faceted texture to encase Elsieanne Caplette’s voice; bass-heavy and brooding, it’s a claustrophobic beat environment, emphasised by the vocals kept semi-submerged in the mix. The essential monochrome at the song’s heart is embellished via brief string interludes and a surprisingly resonant and highly expansive instrumental, and Feldman’s fondness for diminished chords (also prominent in “Not Alone”) keeps everything poignant as well as elegant. But for me one of the most engaging aspects of the song is the way the ear is pulled back and forth between Caplette’s delicately twirling vocals and the dour, solemn bass notes far beneath.
Having set the bar so high, the latter three tracks seem a tad lacklustre by contrast. The short voiceless “Circling the Wagons” is a curiosity, melding a gentle, circling piano idea with overwhelmingly heavy poundings, but is ultimately more of a sketch than anything else. “These Passages”, on the other hand, seems almost uncomfortably conventional, Elsieanne Caplette’s voice feeling a little wasted on what is a pretty straightforward pop ballad. However, the final track recaptures something of the tone of the first half. Feldman sets up a simple, child-like tune with a hazy background that only gradually comes into focus. His voice returns, once again at the cusp of distorted comprehensibility, becoming the core of an imploring epilogue that cries out for comfort.
If this response seems ambivalent, it isn’t; this is an outstanding debut release that even in the less forceful second half shows more imagination and technical refinement than one’s used to hearing in this kind of material. As for the first half, it demonstrates a seriously exciting new voice, a voice that effortlessly combines experimental glitchtronics with fervent lyrical outbursts. Cool and hot simultaneously, it’s a spine-tingling fusion.
The EP is available as a digital download only, and in an act of rash generosity, the price is up to you. It can be streamed/downloaded below.