Written by Jake Kaufman. Media by Stephen Hillrich.
When attempting to critically analyze and review the creative work of another, objectivity is of paramount importance. Personal enjoyment must be put aside and the work examined with an open and unbiased mind. Sometimes, this creates a conflict of interest and makes it rather difficult to remain a credible source and refrain from transforming into just another gushing “fanboy/girl”. Such is the difficult position I found myself in when asked to give my thoughts on the latest album from French shoegaze/atmospheric masters Alcest: Shelter.
There’s no sugarcoating it: I am huge fan of this prolific group’s work and can say very few negative things about their latest triumphant return. In lieu of a proper unbiased review of Shelter, I instead will present the most compelling argument I can as to why you should not ignore this band and their work any longer.
Alcest (my french is rusty, but I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced “al-say”) is a group on a perpetual journey to new realms of evocative ambience. Beginning as an atmospheric post-blackmetal outfit, the group has gravitated more and more towards the “post” and “atmospheric” side, especially as vocalist and guitarist Neige (on right) has shaped and reshaped his musical voicing over the years. As the writer of practically all of Alcest’s music, Neige has had total creative freedom to explore soundscapes as he sees fit and each Alcest album feels like a journey into his wild and mysterious subconscious. And really, this is the single greatest attraction to Alcest’s music: It will take you on a journey.
Shelter may just be the group’s most transcendental and transportive work to date. Completely ditching their blackmetal roots the group instead dives headlong into glossy, shimmering post-rock guitar driven voyages, elegantly accompanied by Neige’s versatile and vulnerable vocals and the exquisite percussion work of drummer Winterhalter. Alcest’s music has always been described as ethereal, and rightly so. They’ve helped establish “shoegaze” as a genre and have led the pack in crafting it for as long as the term has existed. Shelter takes this ethereal nature and plants it like a flower, slowly nurturing it until it blooms forth and envelopes the senses.
There is a tamed energy that sparkles and shimmers beneath the smooth, glossy veneer of reverb and echoing melodies. The album truly shines when it is building towards a release of these energies, as it does so adeptly in the track “Voix Sereines”. The build towards this song’s climactic moment is a truly powerful thing to experience. Or the meandering, chant- like guitar playing on the epic “Délivrance”. Even more so, the rhythmical pounding “L’Eveil Des Muses”. If you must listen to only one track from this album, however, I cannot recommend the bonus track “Into the Waves” (shown below) enough. It is the perfect closer for an album of Shelter’s nature and succinctly wraps up the experience while remaining solidly it’s own independent and exquisite work of art. The guest vocal work is also top notch and the duets with the female vocalist and Neige are spine-tingling.
Mood and trance are an ever present theme on this record, and it is highly recommended that the album be experienced actively: This is not the kind of music to put on in the background at a social function. It demands the listener’s attention and beckons, inviting you to go on a journey outside of yourself to a place both familiar and foreign. If you are a fan of post-rock of any caliber, if you love ambient, transcendental music that captures you and takes you on a journey across your own senses, then Alcest’s Shelter is a masterpiece you should not ignore. If you’ve never heard of the band, there’s never been a better moment to jump in and experience what you’ve been missing.
video via Prophecy Productions youTube channel