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Kick off your shoegaze and relax - 90%

Pale_Pilgrim, November 6th, 2012

What a sweet little stumble-upon this split is for any modern shoegazer ("nu-gaze" is a term that causes me to dry heave). The current shoegaze scene has been flooding over with fusion artists. "Post-rockers" (folks who listen to too much Slint or Explosions in the Sky and start a band) and "blackgazers", if you will (people who take Agalloch's mellow side way too seriously) have been popping up all over since the mid-2000s. All jests aside, there are some quality bands to be tracked down in this burgeoning scene, and two of the most representative of these new developments are the subject of this split.

Ignoring the track order, I'll start with Alcest, mainly because I'm much more familiar with Neige's work. At the time of this release, Alcest had been concocting a brew of minimalistic shoegaze, ethereal wave and black metal just long enough for it to turn out tasting like a fine wine. Neige unleashed the first sonic cask in 2005. It was a fair first attempt, but there was much yet to learn. 2007 yielded more consistent results, and yet it came across watered down. Fine for a shoegazer, but the metal had all but evaporated. 3 years pass and finally Neige had nailed the formula.

So here, in a very limited late 2009 release, we got a whiff and a sip of what was to come. "Percées de Lumière" is perhaps the best track from 2010's Écailles de Lune album. It epitomizes the whole Alcest sound - mid-tempo shoegazing with those characteristic milky/watery guitar effects; winding leads; lush ambience; contrasting harsh and clean vocals; individual notes picked in rapid succession, etc. It's all present and presented almost perfectly on this one track. The other, apparently exclusive to this release, will come as no surprise to a seasoned Alcest fan. It's a short, slow ambient passage with ethereal, wordless vocals sung over some gently flanging guitar notes. Simple, but effective. Two quality tracks from Alcest's side.

Les Discrets is a post-rock/shoegazing band I know less well, but it just so happens that the one album I know is where 2 of the tracks here come from - granted, one is presented here in demo form. The third track is quite different and I will review it apart from the other 2. Of the few things I know about Les Discrets, I should note that this band's vocalist briefly played live bass for Alcest in 2010 [incidentally, a live favorite was "Percées de Lumière"]. Also, Alcest's drummer is also the official drummer for Les Discrets, and Neige has performed live with them. So not only do these bands fit together stylistically, but they have close ties as well. Let's jump into their side of the LP.

"L'echappee" is a song I know well, being my favorite track from the 2010 album Septembre et Ses Dernieres Pensees. On the surface, they're a fairly typical "nu-gaze" act - a typical Les Discrets song will sound, to the casual gazer, similar to Alcest's rockier tunes like "Autre Temps" and "Printemps Emeraude". Their distinguishing characteristics boil down to tight musicianship and intelligent song structure. Fursy, the vocalist/bassist/guitarist handles all of his duties with ease and knows how to pen a good tune. Winterhalter, as Alcest fans know, is formidable behind the kit and this release is no exception. The demo version of "Song for Mountains" [final version is also from the 2010 album] exemplifies all of this well, and also shows off some acoustic prowess. This is a highly atmospheric track and differs only slightly from the final version. If anything, it's better in its longer, less refined take.

The final track from Fursy and friends is actually a neofolk song, one that was exclusive to this release at the time. However, it went on to be featured [along with an instrumental] on the 2010 neofolk compilation called Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings. For the uninitiated, neofolk blends dark folk music with ambient influences. Seeing Les Discrets' name turn up amidst the likes of Empyrium, Vàli and Ulver came as quite a surprise at first. Then I remembered the acoustic guitar work and ambient passages on their 2010 album and thought, "why the hell not?" On this one, their third member, Audrey, provides vocal accompaniment alongside Fursy, singing over a strummed acoustic guitar and watery semi-clean electric notes. The intertwined vocal melodies evoke images of orange leaves in autumn. For a band not known for the style, they really fit in to the neofolk mold pretty easily.

In summary - which, let's face it, is necessary after my long-winded reviews - this split LP is a fine little brunch-sized meal with delicious, folksy post-rock on one side of the table and a snifter of Neige's finest wines on the other.