Cyann & Ben Happy Like an Autumn Tree

[Gooom; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: space folk, post-rock
Others: post-Barrett/pre-Dark-Side Pink Floyd, Jessamine, Espers, Magyar Posse

Don't you feel kind of guilty when a non-English-speaking band sings and titles their albums in English? I do. Has it really come to this?, that they don't believe we'll express any interest in something we don't understand? Hell, I don't understand most of my favorite English lyrics anyway. But why should it be a matter of our interest in the first place? Is it too optimistic to think that it's an aesthetic decision, capturing linguistic qualities that we native speakers can't similarly experience? Sadly, yes. American cultural hegemony is especially disappointing when, as is the case with Cyann & Ben, some cryptic (let alone French!) vocals would really hit the spot, complementing perfectly an already other-worldly musical atmosphere. Man, that's a pretty twisted hypocrisy, isn't it? C'est la vie.

Cyann & Ben's debut Spring from last year painted a wide, lush canopy of deep blues and greens, following a graceful arc through tiny nuances of wonder and melancholy. Somebody must have told them it was too boring. Happy Like an Autumn Tree sees Cyann & Ben losing their patience without compromising the most salient qualities of Spring. Ummagumma still seems to be stuck in their CD player, and the Floyd influence is made even more apparent with stolen elements from "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," "On the Run" and, again, "Embryo." The barely detectable traces of glitch are here too, in compliance with something all of Gooom's artists are probably made to sign. Above all, the thesis remains the same: an impressionistic manipulation of dark and ambiguous emotions.

A change of pace, however, was in order for two reasons. First, although Spring was not exactly boring, two Springs would have been exactly boring. Second, Spring was complete. Spring was almost narrative, with a scope and purpose that, having been realized, shouldn't be repeated. The question of self-definition always presents itself with a sophomore album, but never so pressingly as when the debut is brilliant or tidy. Spring lies squarely in the "tidy" column, and so Cyann & Ben are made to go inventing loose ends for themselves.

Now, instead of calmly instilling us with dolor and dread, they jostle us with livelier tempos, crashing discordant pianos, tribal choruses, and more than a few tracks under six minutes. Something much less linear results, and the effect is dizzying by comparison; the Spring/Autumn Tree relation mirrors Mogwai's Come on Die Young/Rock Action sequence quite nicely.

It's difficult to say whether Autumn Tree surpasses Spring, exactly, because Spring isn't the same album anymore, demanding reexamination in light of new evidence. What we can say conclusively about Autumn Tree is that it is much more than a gratuitous afterthought. Its relative vigor isn't forced or desperate. There are new ideas here, and ones that require further exposition. This release firmly establishes C&B as something worth keeping track of, an achievement that Spring alone couldn't claim.

1. Circle
2. (Silences and Little Melodies For...)
3. Gone to Waste
4. (Close to Discovery)
5. A Moment Nowhere
6. (Tide)
7. Summer
8. Obsessing and Screaming Voice in a Shell