Saturday, January 15, 2011
Review: Spleen Arcana - The Field Where She Died (2008)
French musician Julien Gaullier, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, pulls off an impressive achievement with his first album The Field Where She Dies. Having written the material over several years, he recorded the music, singing and playing all the various instruments except for the drums which are played by David Peron and there are addition vocals sung by Marie Guillaumet.
Though I like the music here for the most part there is one major draw back here for me. That is Julien’s voice. I find that his vocals do a disservice to his music. He’s not exactly singing, but not narrating or anything of that sort. But to me they sound flat and somewhat bland and not adequate to the music except in several places (the chorus of Trample On Me for instance and the short growl-like segment on A Picture Of Two Lovers In The Mist). This music requires a more versatile singer, with a wider range, but mainly in a low pitch. I would also have made much more use of Marie’s backing vocals. The best use is on the last track but is not as prevalent on the other songs.
On to the music:
Dark and even aggressive with the harsh guitar riffs, this reminds of music from bands like Anathema (Alternative 4 era) while incorporating intricate compositional structures and a vast array of sounds and instruments.
A song like Trample On Me presents a wide range of emotions and styles in it, showcasing Julien’s vast influences. You have a dark opening which culminates in a bombastic forceful opening lead by poignant guitar riffs. The chorus has a very good use of keyboards and voice-like sound produced which I find very effective and appealing. Later in the song, there is a shift to a quieter and slower part, which would have been better sounding had more keyboards been used, but still, is very effective; in particular the guitar solo. All in all, this is a remarkable song, which is very well performed and arranged; my favourite song in the album.
The missing piece is an acoustic and quiet piece for the most part, but again the problem here for me is Julien’s voice. It just doesn’t reach the emotional peaks this requires and they sound somewhat bland. As backing vocals they are fine, but not as lead vocals. The music itself is beautiful, with great keyboards work. I particularly like the part where the rhythm picks up pace and there is overdubbing of vocal lines. It should have been longer though and developed more and not ended so early on.
A Picture Of Two Lovers In The Mist starts with effects and piano-sounding keyboards, creating a somber effect, as if something bad is about to happen. This tension filling segment goes on for two minutes until the vocals come in and the acoustic guitar take up with the percussions backing up. Again, the vocals just do not sound good to me and I wish he would have found someone else to perform them. It ruins part of the experience for me. The tension then passes and gives away to a more optimistic sounding mood that occasionally goes back to its darker sides. With this song I expected much more the first time I heard it based on its opening sequence, hoping for some more aggression to be delivered and for a more complex composition to be delivered. It was partly fulfilled. The aggression does show up in the fifth minute in the form of crunchy riffs and where we also receive a short growl-like segment from Julien, which is one of the few times I actually enjoyed the vocals in the album and though they did a wonderful service to the music. This song is much better in its second half, though again, I think he could have done more with it, but that’s my personal view and expectation. I guess that it is not what he wants to accomplish with that particular song.
Tears Are Made To Flow again begins with a similar style as the previous one, only the mood here is of a benevolent nature. In line with the other songs, this is also a highly emotional piece, both lyrics and music wise. But I find it lingers too much on one segment, the slow and repetitive middle part. But it gets more interesting and appealing as a more dynamic and powerful guitar and vocal line come in. the keyboards backing the sound do a very fine job and the guitar solo as well. I like the short segment of seemingly change of direction towards the seventh minute. I like as well the wah-wah guitar soloing afterwards, though it may sound a bit out of place in the album as a whole. The ending is particularly well done with the drums giving appropriate power to this climatic closure.
A Kind Of Heaven goes straight to business with its high use of keyboards of various kinds and a crunchy sounding guitar. This is a great opening and sets up a great stage for the continuation which is even better, as it changes tone. There is also a great bass line that Julien plays. This is a great song that progresses smoothly from one segment to the next and all the instruments are used wisely (but again the vocals detract my enjoyment of this all affair). There is a somewhat conventional use of the guitar in the soloing here but it is effective and powerful and I would have loved to hear more from the keyboards here in the lead. The ending of the song is particularly well done. This is a great song to end the album with.
With all my reservations about certain aspects of the album, I am filled with appreciation for Julien’s accomplishment. This is more than a decent album and I’m sure folks who like sophisticated rock that lies in dark and powerful domains will find what to like here. I personally would have enjoyed it much more had the vocals been handled by someone else; otherwise, I enjoyed this album. Julien is an extremely talented guy and I hope to listen to more of what he has to offer.
You can stream or download for free the album on his bandcamp (link below).