Alcest - Kodama

Year of Release: 2016
Label: Prophecy Productions
Catalog Number: PRO1190
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:42:23

Alcest are a guitar-drums centric duo of Neige (Stéhane Paut) and Winterhalter (Jean Deflandre), though it is the guitars that are more prominently heard and are the highlight of this release. They come cascading down like waterfalls (to use a cliché), most notably on the album's opener "Kodama." The vocals are sometimes dreamily ethereal and other times raw (and tortured) screams. While I am not a fan of screamy vocals - gruff to clean is my comfort zone - they work here because they are sparse, they become part of the "narrative," such as it were.

There is a similar dynamic that begins each track - wall of guitars and sparse percussion, which on the one hand, gives it a concept-album feel, on the other hand, feels repetitive.

This is music designed to accompany visuals - even as this isn't a score. Perhaps because they are instrumental, I think that. But also because of their vast scope... each piece takes time to unwind (most tracks are 7-9 minutes long). I should note here, that, as noted on the band's website, "Originally triggered by Hayso Miyazaki's anime film Princess Mononoke, Kodama picks up on the fate of its protagonist..." With this in mind, the sonic effect is like the fairly static (even if "moving") background that anime/animation has. The drums provide the lower layer (a streetscape, for example) and the intricate guitar work provides top layer, the main movement of the character - whether walking, running, driving, whatever. This is most evident in "Je Suis D'ailleurs."

"Onyx," which concludes the album, is a dirge-like sonic wall. I am brought to mind, in terms of effect, of what Steve Roach often did with his compositions - that sense of movement and stillness simultaneously - sustained note with marginal variation. That same effect is here. In movie/animation terms, this is the final scene, the protagonist has... well maybe died, maybe a fate only less dire. It does not end on a happy note, that is for sure, as all of the notes are dark, muted.

The middle section of the album (tracks 3 - 4, the aforementioned "Je Suis D'Ailleurs," and "Untouched") is drowsy, relying a lot on a same motif. In some ways, if I weren't looking at the tracklisting, I'd think it were just one very long track. Which is fine, it's been done (Echolyn's mei comes to mind). Aspects of "Untouched" have a Middle Eastern/Arabic sound to them, mostly in the vocalizations.

To be inclusive, "Eclosion" is arty rock with lots of drama not dissimilar to Porcupine Tree, instrumentally speaking. The vocals here are entirely screamed at full throat - raging against the world -although the appearance of vocals is sparing. Whereas the music has lots of soft edges, there is a certain tension that builds, not entirely expended by the catharsis.

More about the album from their website (from the same paragraph as that quoted above): "[...] at its core, [it] deals with the sensation of not belonging; of living in between worlds, be it city and nature, the physical and spiritual one. By giving the album a cultural, stylistic and compositional narrative, Neige and Winterhalter keep Kodama from just being the latest improvement on the Alcest sound and instead make the album a most rare and exciting thing: a vital, relevant record from a front runner that not only upholds the band's trailblazing legacy, but actually makes you want to see where they go next." That last bit might be a tad overstated, in my opinion, but they do achieve a sense of dichotomy using the shimmery guitar lines and angry vocals.

Overall, this is an enjoyable listen, but not one that you'd play as anything but for atmosphere (not quite background music, but not quite bring your friends over for a listening party either). I'd say, and am saying: Seemingly stuck on a moving sidewalk - lots of energy expended, not getting anywhere - while there Alcest make some pretty noise.

Listen to "Kodama" on Spotify

A 2CD version includes a bonus track, "Notre Sang Et Nos Pensées."

As of, and prompting, this review, Alcest are on the bill for the upcoming Prog In The Park (July 12-13, 2019) and ARTMania (July 26-27, 2019) festivals, among others.

Kodama (9:07) / Eclosion (8:55) / Je Suis D'Ailleurs (7:20) / Untouched (5:12) / Oiseaux De Prole (7:48) / Onyx (3:52)

Neige - guitars, vocals, keyboards
Winterhalter - drums

Guest Musicians:

Indria Saray - bass
Kathrine Shepard - vocals (1)

Le Secret (ep) (2005/2011)
Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde (2007)
Écailles De Lune (2010)
Les Voyages De L'Áme (2012)
BBC Live Session (ep) (2012)
Shelter (2014)
Kodama (2016)

Genre: Post-Metal

Origin FR

Added: June 13th 2019
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 5361
Language: english


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