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Cyann & Ben - Happy Like An Autumn Tree

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Artist: Cyann & Ben

Album: Happy Like An Autumn Tree

Label: Locust

Review date: Nov. 2, 2004

Cyann and Ben’s debut, Spring, was an ethereally dark and tantalizingly transparent blend of Stereolab, Low and Pink Floyd, the breathy vocals as much a texture as any instrument or effect. On Happy like an Autumn Tree, C&B’s influences are both more and less apparent; Everything that made the debut disc such a satisfying listen is present in more extreme and experimental form, rendering influence insignificant in the face of innovation.

There is a boldness, a new confidence, apparent from the very opening moments of “Circle”; a typical C&B organ swells, hangs suspended, only to be shattered by the sudden entrance of drums and piano. “Circle” also has a strikingly Wagnerian chord progression, (A similar point of reference might be Faust’s “Flashback Caruso”) and such neo-romanticisms recur throughout the disc, enhancing the forbidding qualities of this already dark music. The vocals are strident, rich and full – Cyann in particular singing with consistently more bravado than on Spring – and the voices blend quite convincingly in relatively complex harmonic arrangements.

There are several connective tracks, beautifully atmospheric slices of shoegazery that veer dangerously close to the avant-garde. “(Close to Discovery)” in particular is a swirling mass of drones, quietly shimmering feedback and disconnected voices, all shot through with industrial squeaks and subdued clattering. These reflective moments give the album a sense of coherence, sharing musical material with tracks that precede and succeed them.

However, the most startling departure from their debut is a more pervasive use of effects, especially on “Obsessing and Screaming Voice in a Shell.” Distortion bubbles and grinds just below the music’s smooth surface, providing an almost subliminal tension. As the track fades, drums with heavy delay recede until only the effect is discernable. It morphs, swells and abruptly disappears, an effective closing to an album that surpasses its predecessor in every respect.

By Marc Medwin

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