Review: Sylvain Chauveau + Stephan Mathieu – Palimpsest

Collaboration is often at its most wonderful when the addition of another perspective results in a radical shift in the creative direction; not the mere affirmation or expansion of a proposed idea, but its drastic re-evaluation and re-contextualisation. As it turns out, there was a hidden potential within Stephan Mathieu’s part in this collaboration, but it took the eyes of Sylvain Chauveau to pluck this out of the dark – who knows how Palimpsest would have sounded had Chauveau overlooked this potential pathway, but thank goodness the pair chose to pursue it.

Each of these tracks creeps into being as these complex, interwoven strands of electronic tone – the sort that glows with Stephan Mathieu’s unmistakable ethereal signature – and proceeds to swell and recede with the unity and fluidity of an octopus, with each limb swaying through its own movements while drifting as one soft, unified body. In the context of my previous experience of Mathieu, the sound feels more hostile and unpredictable than I normally associate with him; ridged with serrated edges of dissonance and incoherent mumblings through walkie-talkie radio, inescapable in a manner that feels unnervingly claustrophobic rather than blissfully detached.

And then in comes Chauveau’s rich baritone from absolutely nowhere (recorded by Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid, no less). Initially his presence is somewhat startling and even awkward; he juts out like a rock breaking through the surface of the sea, protruding from within Mathieu’s soundwaves with a brashness and phantom sense of rhythm that seemingly stands in opposition to the tempo-less drift of the surrounding instruments. At times he can even sound oblivious to the atmospheric movements around him, as though blocking out Mathieu’s contributions and singing along to the original Smog tracks as heard in his head. At others, there’s an unmistakable feeling of disconnection – the immediacy of Callahan’s lyricism (“I’m gonna be drunk, so drunk, at your wedding…”) vaporises as it meets Mathieu’s mercurial abstraction, instantly lost and rendered almost trivial in amongst the music’s unfathomable expanse. It almost feels like a comment on the dislocating nature of remote collaboration: a tangled web of misread intent, isolating timespace distance and communicative disconnect. Thoroughly hypnotic.