Do you like pretty music? Because Alcest have made a very pretty album. Not that Stéphane Paut, a.k.a. Neige, ever made exclusively heavy music, but stop after those first two sentences and large-enough segments of the French act’s fanbase will have their first complaint about Shelter. Following the brash layers of distortion that lined past avalanches like Écailles de Lune (Moon Scales), Alcest’s fourth album is never metal, it’s not even the systematically named sub-subgenre “blackgaze,” but it sounds more carefully composed than anything Neige has done before. With skyscraping guitars, ovular piano figures, and draping strings, Neige is reaching for – and mostly capturing – the Olympian heights of a Sigur Rós or a Godspeed. There are constants in this band – lyrics in French, song titles in English, Neige is still metallish-ly coiffed – but this is an eight-song, 45-minute escape to post-rock stratosphere-searching.
Most of our best post-rock albums have a sparkling liftoff and a smooth return to Earth; here those come in the form of the 90-second “Wings” and the 10-minute “Délivrance”. Between the bookends are gems like “Shelter”, which begins like a Smashing Pumpkins wafter, and the shoegaze gust of “Opale”. The whole thing soars like a mushroom cloud, and also its stupefying beauty might bring to mind a formative shrooms experience. (Bear with me, it’s easy to wax florid about this stuff.)
There’s also “Away”. If you’ve ever seen or YouTubed an Alcest acoustic show, you’re familiar with Neige’s somber, if not particularly elastic, singing voice. On penultimate ballad “Away” – which is too soft to be considered a piss-off but which, if you get right down to it, really is – he sings in English about a universal thought: “I wish my mind could wander without pain.” Maybe his ESL education wasn’t as smooth as, say, Kristian Matsson’s, but it’s nevertheless a moving five minutes. With such a breathtaker in tow, you shouldn’t feel Shelter like maybe you did with Deafheaven last year because this is entirely not metal. It is an album you should breathe, if only for one play. I have a feeling that by the time you’ve done that, you won’t care much about which genre to file it under in iTunes.
Essential Tracks: “Shelter”, “Away”, and “Délivrance”