Eric Chenaux - "Dull Lights (White or Grey)" (Guitar & Voice)
Much like certain Loren Mazzacane Connors recordings, Eric Chenaux’s Guitar & Voice straddles the boundaries of experimental improvisation and song-based composition. This latest project, which Chenaux calls an extended meditation on balladry, includes four songs with vocals, one extended guitar solo and four compositions in bowed guitar, all composed and performed solely by Chenaux.
The vocal pieces are the initial draw here, drawing the listener in with melody, but surrounding these melodies with prickly, unexpected instrumental elements. Chenaux’s voice expands haunting, jazz-tuned melodies from the inside. His voice is weightless, haunting, alighting on words and phrases without putting pressure on them, then skittering up an octave or so for spectral climaxes. He sounds very much like Jeff Buckley in spots, particularly the long, lovely “Dull Lights (White and Grey).” He is prone to the sudden swoops, the free-form syllable-bending runs. Vocal phrases are widely spaced, allowing Chenaux the time to comment, to revise, to inject via his other voice, the guitar. On “Dull Lights (White and Gray),” you hear slow, lingering runs of plucked notes, arcing off like a riposte to Chenaux’s observations. A chord serves as home; from there, the guitar ventures out in twisting folk cadences, some altered and given physical weight with bends and taps and the audible weight of fingers on strings. Later, “However Wild the Dream” pulls the trick, grounding Chenaux’s airy, otherworldly song in a tangible, physical mesh, of plucked intervals, strummed resolutions and an enveloping, grounding drone.
The guitar itself becomes a sort of voice in the long electric guitar solo “Sliabh Aughty,” another highlight. Here Chenaux wraps the blistered tone of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” around a lingering, folk-echoing melody, blaring and howling and groaning against a dream-like background of sustained tone. Notes are held until they fray and waver and oscillate, are wah-wah’d so that they surge and fade in sudden bursts, pushed so that the slow pretty melody turns, or almost turns, into abrasion. The balance of beauty and harshness here is calibrated to a fine degree, evoking the distorted gorgeousness of Hisato Higuchi.
Guitar & Voice’s vocal pieces initially overshadow the rest of the record, making the shorter bowed pieces and even “Sliabh Aughty” sound like intervals, rather than integral parts of the album. Yet as you listen, you begin to see that Chenaux is working at the same puzzle all along, looking for ways to shroud melody in dissonance, drone and difficulty, in different degrees and with different results, but always with the song itself winning through.