France's Gabriel Keller's latest album Clair Obscur on first listen struck me as a bit of an oddity as it swings from mellow and laid back tracks to dark and heavy forays into Prog-Metal all without anything feeling out of place. According to the album notes - “This is an album of 10 tracks divided into two parts: - A clear, bright, rather pop first part, tinged with influences from groups like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and many others. - A more obscure, dark and tortured second part in which we can hear the inspirations of bands like Opeth or Porcupine Tree. Hence the name of this album: Clair Obscur.” - but it not quite so clear cut as these influences interweave throughout the entire album often when you least expect them.
The opening track Tumulte featuring guitarist Charlie Henry moves between gentle atmospheric guitars to sections that hit hard without every going fully into the realm of prog metal...but instead walking that fine line in-between.
Time, with Emi B on vocals is quite accessible and memorable, a little reminiscent of Libbie Schrader and maybe a little bit of Oasis. Train To Resolution and Open Arms, also featuring Emi B and Melancholia, featuring Charlotte Gagnor round out this part of the album - all very well written and well produced pop songs.
And then everything changes...... Sonate Au Clair Obscur featuring Clement Barou immediately brings to mind Savatage or some of the more progressive elements of Steve Vai, complete with choir and string section this is the best track on the album.
Nothing Human and Out Of My Life featuring Maïté Merlin bring to mind Sunday All Over World (and the vocals of Toyah) but with a much heavier approach to the guitar lines.
Honey featuring Marine Poirier returns to the very heavy approach musically with quite a unique vocalization. Musically this reminds of Japan's Ars Nova (with guitars instead of keyboards) and vocally it almost brings to mind Siouxsie Sioux.
The album wraps up with Accalmie - it's acoustic guitar and choir arrangement immediately brings to mind Pink Floyd (and perhaps a touch of Clannad) and the track serves well to wind the album down and bring things to a very good conclusion.
Overall this a very good album which I would place firmly in the progressive-pop category - while fans of prog-metal might find some of the album appealing, it never really crosses into that territory completely, always keep a foot firmly planted in the pop world.
***+ David Carswell
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