As much as it galls me to use a phrase as hackneyed and lazy as “musical journey” to describe where France’s Alcest find themselves today, it is pretty difficult to come up with any more apposite words to describe the transformation they have undertaken, proudly manifested on their excellent new album, “Shelter”.
Their black metal hinterland and leanings are eschewed on this latest record and replaced by a compelling soundscape of lush, evocative and immersive music. It’s the sound of a band growing; if not growing up but certainly outgrowing the sometimes claustrophobic strictures of black metal. “Shelter” kicks off with ‘Wings’; its opening passages reminiscent of those musical montages that television companies love to use when covering major sporting events before it all settles down into what can only be described as the best attempt I have heard in a long while to take us back to 1991 and the days of shoegazing when hair was floppy, jeans were baggy and trainers were resolutely Converse.
For the uninitiated, shoegazing was a sub genre of alternative rock that reached its high point in the early 1990s. Characterized by effects heavy, wall of sound guitars, lush vocals and introspective, largely immobile live performances-hence the “shoe gaze” epithet- from its main protagonists- (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive amongst the more notable)- shoegazing, like many sub genres, had its moments, both great and absurd.
Alcest have always had a deserved reputation for focussing entirely on the effect of their music (as opposed to the spectacle of a live show, for example) and in this regard their affinity with shoegazing is entirely understandable- they are pretty easy bedfellows. All credit to Neige and his compatriots then for taking this affinity a step further and the inclusion of Neil Halstead from Slowdive (on ‘Away’) not only seems like an entirely natural step forward but it’s a lovely, open hearted piece of music, free of cynicism and guile and very easy to warm to. The rest of the album is equally brilliant. From the opening bars of ‘Wings’ to the epic closing track ‘Delivrance’ (which the band have already adopted as their show coda, perhaps indicating how confident they are around this latest work), this is a record to bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart. I could wax lyrically about each of the eight tracks on here: I won’t. Please just go and wallow in the glorious sound that this band makes. Go and do it now.
Part introspection, part reflection, all heart: “Shelter” is the aural equivalent of being wrapped in a warm duvet and being drip fed hot chocolate. “Shelter” is the type of record that you are going to want to keep on repeat, share with your friends and, perhaps, even, cheer up your enemy. Formidable, as they say.