The overlapping layers of symbology on Benoit Pioulard’s latest disc, Hymnal, shroud everything in an Earl Grey mystic fog. First, though the project title scans as a name, it’s a nom de guerre for American-born London resident Thomas Meluch. Though retained as signposts more than religious initiations, the disc is filled with Catholic ritual references. Plus, the album cover depicts a tree on the estate of poet Edward James, being consumed by black fungus. With some help from Kranky labelmate Felix on string arrangements and ambient whiz Kyle Bobby Dunn on guitar, Meluch swims through a deep sea, at turns surreal folk, mythic ambiance, and organic fade.
Blurred lines are essential to Hymnal, both musically and lyrically. The graveyard two-step of “Reliquary” creaks and rattles, layers of hissing tape, alt percussion, and floating strings bobbing to the top. “I can feel the features of my visage,” Meluch croons, though he adds that “it’s as though they were yours,” the difference of subject and object as murky as the music. Though the title “Gospel” suggests verbal revelation, the six-minute instrumental drone that ensues instead creates a portal to some wild heaven, birds chirping, and organs glistening. Meluch’s use of religious terminology is enough to set the stage for deep, connective experiences, but the music’s poetic depth
The shambolic “Margin” evokes the dark pinetops and mysterious fauna of an ancient, a more urgent take on the misty folk vintage of labelmate Grouper. “Excave” patters and plinks, digging out its own core to expose to the sunlight, though Meluch’s hushed vocal layers distend and sway. Even the sleepiest of melodies, the woozy “Florid”, is invested with a headphone-panning, expansive medley of lo-fi wonders, rites that lead down a sylvan path.
Essential Tracks: “Reliquary”, “Margin”, and “Gospel”