I have the same dream all the time. It can’t properly be called a “recurring dream,” because in each instance the particulars are different. What remains constant is that, in my dream, there is a place where I need to be: a class that I am late for, an important meeting at work, a family event where everyone is expecting me. Wherever my destination, getting there should be no problem. These are, after all, routes that I’ve traveled hundreds, maybe thousands of times in the terra firma of the waking world. But travel, no matter how rote, is never a simple task in the shifting twilight lands of dream. Within a few steps, the familiar landscape begins to twist, to buckle, and to curve back in upon itself. Time begins to ripple and fragment. I obsessively check my phone, look for clocks, ask passing strangers the hour, and every time the answer is different. My desperation grows in proportion to the awful, sinking certainty that I will never arrive, that every path will take me in the wrong direction, that no place I travel to will ever be the right place.
Philippe Petit knows that dreams are dangerous places to go wandering. Oneiric Rings on Grey Velvet, the first entry in the electronic artist’s Extraordinary Tales of a Lemon Girl trilogy, depicts the journey of the innocent Lemon Girl through the gray realms of dream. Although Petit is an eager collaborator (recent team-ups include a full-length with Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson, a single with Cindytalk, and an upcoming album with his outfit, post-rock collective Strings of Consciousness), this release finds Petit manning a smorgasbord of instruments — including an electronic psalterion, Roland Fantom G6, piano, turntables, and all manner of sounds and samples — all on his own. Petit skillfully layers his sounds into a foreboding sonic landscape as haunted and mercurial as dream itself, and, fittingly enough, it fills one with the same sense of familiarity and dislocation.
“Sweet Cosmic Lemon Girl” welcomes the listener with a whimsical keyboard and psalterion melody. Like Alice’s white rabbit, its playful, otherworldly charm invites us down the record’s labyrinthine passages, where things quickly turn bleak in the album’s longest piece, “Firewalking in Your Night.” Over its sprawling 16 minutes, the track drags us from jarring string alarums that recall some of Bernard Herrmann’s contributions to the films of Alfred Hitchcock (a director who was no stranger to dream states himself) to the dark phantasmagorias of Twin (“Fire walk with me”) Peaks. The ensuing tracks devolve deeper and deeper into nightmare, into great roiling swaths of drone littered with the detritus of the Freudian subconscious: the distant coital murmurs of “Her Fortress is a Bronze Mirror;” the predatory, disembodied gasps of “But She Is Not for You to Eat;” all building toward the sudden and-then-she-woke-up orchestral flourish at the end of “Die Your Lemon Paradise.”
With Oneiric Rings on Grey Velvet, Petit has created a darkly surreal masterpiece, a record as bewitching and capricious as the dreamscapes its ominous tones seek to describe. To enter its realm is a perilous enterprise, but the rewards are well worth the risks.