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Cyann & Ben - Spring

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Artist: Cyann & Ben

Album: Spring

Label: Locust

Review date: Mar. 23, 2004

The nine songs that comprise Parisian quartet Cyann & Ben’s Spring, if translated into visual form, would probably look something like the swarm of insects on the album’s cover: although they ultimately work together to create a unified mass, they seem to be swirling in all directions at once, never quite settling down into a comfortably identifiable form. Despite the fact that most tracks employ guitar, analog synth, and vocals, Cyann & Ben certainly aren’t a “rock” band, nor are they comparable to other lo-fi synth-driven ensembles. If anything, they recall the slow-building post-rock of Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, but in a more rustic and psychedelic form. Like many of their songs, they seem to be many things at once, but ultimately transcend any recognizable influences to create a sound that is genuinely novel and intriguing, and very hard to pin down at times.

Spring’s disorienting quality can probably be attributed to the fact that while most of the tracks suggest a traditional song structure (vocal melody line, a discernable pattern of repeated sections), they don’t end up fulfilling it: instead of going from point A to B to Z, as we might expect, the music seems to spread out like a pool of oil on the ground. “I Can’t Pretend Anymore,” despite commencing with a simple synth arpeggio and melody line, eventually melts into seemingly random bits of ambient sound, which in turn segue into the following track, “Siren Song.” Probably the most effective piece on the album, “Siren Song” combines an arpeggiated electric guitar figure that recalls The Bends-era Radiohead with synth bass and jazz-inflected drumming, and climaxes with a doubled guitar and synth melody that could have been lifted from a Morricone score. On the whole, however, particular song structures are less important to the album’s success than a sustained mood or atmosphere. Spring is invariably downtempo, creating a sense of melancholy and meditation that finds a comfortable counterpart in the almost exclusively minor-key melodies.

Despite their prominence, the vocals add little to the overall effect, given that they’re rarely intelligible (due to strong French accents). When the words can be made out, they tend to seem incongruously unrestrained and fanciful in contrast to the music (“the wind unicorn is waiting for you in the light of the moon!”). This however, matters little, as the vocals serve more as instruments than as a means for verbal communication.

Spring can be a frustrating listen. Its sprawling, structurally-convoluted songs can seem a bit arbitrary at first, and often times sound as though they could be pared down to a more conventional form. Repeated listens, however, reveal an underlying flow that has little regard for immediate accessibility and gratification. Prostrate headphone listening may be the best way to take in Cyann & Ben; Spring will ultimately reward those who can assume the same reflective and attentive mindset with which it was made.

By Michael Cramer

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