Although his lyrics are inaudible verbosities and his name is a pseudonym and he goes about the whole business in a fancifully gallicized way that’s probably not necessary, Benoît Pioulard makes a lot of sense. He gets that the calm in his line of work should be deceptive, that the value of complexity in folk music is above all ornamental. This is what he does eerily well: make the lilting and simple sound very busy, and vice versa. A great deal of sound goes into his canvases, and his control of it, the richness of the result, is pretty often breathtaking.
Temper differs little in composition from Pioulard’s first full-length, Précis: guitars first, then processed instruments and tinny rhythm tracks, found noises and drone interludes, a few distinct incarnations of Pioulard’s (er, Thomas Meluch’s) weary, preoccupied coo. The songs are short, sometimes more like sketches and almost always shorter than they could justifiably be, bleeding into one another like neighboring transmissions on some ghostly shortwave radio.
Accordingly, Temper is no less dreamy than Précis, and dreamy in no less literal a way: both are suffused with a vague, bleary quality that buries its own frayed network of symbols and affinities. The big difference is that it takes a step or two out of the haze in which Précis suspended itself: it doesn’t sound effortless. The elements that structure songs and set them apart from sketches are played up, from the furious picking that opens “Ragged Tint” to the curiously modish percussion in “Ahn” – perhaps the one spot in Pioulard’s work to date that registers the influence of contemporary pop. Most of Précis seemed to just kind of happen; Temper has been worked on, worked at. You could comfortably describe the pensive drone “Modèle d’éclat” or the gorgeous resolution of “The Loom Pedal” as “accomplished,” whether you mean it as an adjective or a verb.
Pioulard doesn’t lose much for being deliberate this time around. Temper is rewarding in a conventional way compared to the surprise of Précis, less something iridescent found in the sand and more the product of resourceful and masterly design. If that collapses the romantic aura of the early stuff a bit, it’s also a reassuring sign that the early stuff was no accident, and that the talent behind it is on the move and unlikely to dissipate.