Thomas Meluch doesn’t make songs so much as soufflés. His records are small miracles of texture, computer-cooked confections, one part plaintive folk, one part chiffony electronic wash — add a teaspoon of field recording and a pinch of static. They hang suspended in a sliver of no man’s land, between the fuzzier ambient realm of his more esteemed Kranky compatriots and the catchier, brighter bevy of bands more often dubbed “dream pop.” This genre-lessness cuts both ways: on one hand, it blacklights how blandly amorphous this faux-Frenchman’s music can be; on the other, it helps prove how Meluch has carved himself a distinct little niche.
Lasted isolates the two main components of his sound more discretely than his widely embraced debut Precís did; this time around, each track clearly follows the pattern of either Tim Hecker-esque synthesized washout or lustrously plucked, gently baritone-ed bedroom canticle. This approach frontgrounds Meluch’s most obviously appealing traits, but also leaves his weak suits less guarded from scrutiny.
On the whole, it’s the ambient passages that falter. Meluch’s billows of tape decay and spun-out guitar just don’t carry the narrative quality of Hecker or the stately space of Stars of the Lid. They’re dense but toothless, made only more so by the occasional vocal “ooh” or traffic noise smeared on top. The abstract sketches that filled Precís were quicker and more compelling than these, which wear out their still-short three-minute durations. Out of all the non-vocal tracks on Lasted, only “Nod,” which concludes the album and spreads over five minutes, entirely justifies its existence by kicking up a respectable cloud of static.
These soggy interludes do, however, serve to provide contrast, highlighting the pealing clarity of the songs they connect. Meluch forgoes the accordion and muddled production for this outing, instead turning his focus to the combination of three basic elements: pellucid vocal harmonies; rich, hollow guitar tones; and well-wielded hand percussion. His circuitous melodies seem somehow “early music” without even approaching Renm Faire pastiche, as on “Sault,” where his resonant voice and picked arabesques tie so many knots around each other as to make the listener dizzy.
Lasted reaches its peak of poppiness with “Shouting Distance,” which stomps and harmonizes its way into the purview of Department of Eagles. In fact, much of the songwriting on the record feels distinctly Daniel Rossen in its combination of understated vocals with sinuous, woven guitar work. There’s scarcely a bum track among them, although the title track happens to sound naggingly similar to The Books’ latter-day output.
But in the end, even gilded arrangements and lacy hooks can’t save Lasted from being an oppressively tiresome experience when played end-to-end, especially after several listens. Tracks begin to run together, and the listener begins to dream less of cloisters, swathes of taffeta, or whatever than of some nice solid breakbeats, some distortion, something to break up the soporific sea of gauze-folk. Just as eating even the most superb meringues for three meals a day will make you vomit up white froth, Benoît Pioulard’s puffed-up concoctions can’t get by on craft alone.