French artist Cécile Schott (aka Colleen) focuses her songwriting on the viola da gamba, a string instrument that saw its heyday centuries ago — but you wouldn’t suspect that listening to her new album, Captain of None. Despite the instrument’s baroque origins, Colleen loops, delays, plucks, and pops the thing into a mesmerizing stream.
Since her 2003 debut, Schott has spread her wings considerably, reaching from songs indebted to the viol’s early music bowing to the dubby experimentalism heard here. In fact, to the untold listener, the origin of the waterfalls of chilled tones could be assumed to be some combination of violin, harp, and cello. Though instruments like hand drums and melodica add shading in places, her arrangements on Captain of None use her English language vocals as a core as much as the viol. “This Hammer Breaks” does away with the strings completely, as a running river of African percussion provides the only counterpoint to her hushed insistence that “You never know what’s in the heart.”
That sort of poetic simplicity drives the album. Colleen’s connections to nature feel somehow just as potent with this digitized version of her sound as they did in her more pastoral days. “I’m kin to two stones making fire/ I’m kin to melted ice giving water,” she drips on “I’m Kin”. The simple image of an eclipse on the song of the same name grows personal in her terse words: “There is a sun/ That escapes me.”
More than any sort of technical achievement or genre alteration, Captain of None powerfully blends the mythic, organic, and internal. The effects pedals, dub influences, and baroque instrumentation all slip into place, like pieces of broken plates glued together into a landscape mosaic, with Schott at its center, beckoning you into her world.
Essential Tracks: “I’m Kin”, “This Hammer Breaks”, and “Captain of None”