Album Review: Colleen - A flame my love, a frequency
Cécile Schott aka Colleen has been making albums for well over a decade now, but her seventh album A flame my love, a frequency is a very conscious and practical rebirth of her sound. On past releases her instrument of choice has been the viola da gamba, surrounded by other minimal stringed instruments, but on A flame… she has dropped these traditional implements for electronic ones. Here she has restricted herself to using Critter and Guitari pocket synthesizers with some Moog effects pedals to accompany her voice.
While her last two albums were fairly minimal, A flame… is still comparatively skeletal; while the space around the instruments on previous releases could still be filled with the resonance of bowed or plucked strings, the bleeps and notes of the synths on this one are rounded, final – leaving plenty of blank, airy space around them in which Colleen whisper-sings, or sometimes just leaves to float. The initial germs for A flame… started when Colleen was walking around Paris on November 13th 2015, enjoying the culture and joy in the air – only for it to be destroyed later that night by the horrific terrorist attacks at The Bataclan. It’s unsurprising then that she would use her music as an escape.
This is clear from the opening track ‘November’, which is wordless and sounds like the beginning of a serene nautical voyage out to somewhere secluded and private. The album then loosely follows a year in the life of the musician, who holed herself up in her home on the coast of Spain, making trips into the wilderness. Knowing this allows us to draw a gothic narrative on the album of a forlorn woman shutting herself away from humanity to enjoy solitude and nature. Second track ‘Separating’ seems to be her pulling away from society; the delicately burbling synthesizer like the waves lapping the side of a small row-boat as Colleen ventures out into the endless ocean; the cycles of the simplistic loops grow and fade like unpredictable currents, both internal and external. The instrumental ‘Another World’ is built on similarly skeletal arpeggiating patterns, but is more guttural in its burblings, like Colleen is hard at industrious but delicate work. On ‘Winter Dawn’ Colleen intertwines textures as she strolls to the shore dreaming “the world had nearly ended, yet the sky was blue/ and I came home with a fist full of fear”; the harsh cold scraping her cheeks is physical in the grainier, slightly tempestuous composition.
There’s a clear delineation between the halves of this 8-track album, not least because we jump from ‘Winter Dawn’ straight to ‘Summer Night’, and the difference in temperature is audible. ‘Summer Night’ is a balmy ode to nature in all its glory, Colleen singing to a bat that has flown into her room, imagining it’s some long lost friend reappeared in animal form; her voice is fuller and riper than it is on the first half of the album. The ‘hook’ of “descending milky night” is draped over the composition like the haze of a bleeding orange sunset over the sea. This celebration of nature is taken even further on ‘The Stars vs. The Creatures’, where the twinkling setting of her synths is at its most harp-like, depicting the stars above, while she embodies the animals around her and gives them voice. In less delicate hands this would be a pastiche of a folk song or a cheap cartoony throwaway, but with Colleen this is the sound of life at its most glorious and precious. The album loses some steam on the instrumental ‘One Warm Spark’, which just shows off similar electronic patterns as have been used throughout the album. A flame my love, a frequency ends with its title track, in which Colleen projects her clear voice out into the night air, searching for another living human to connect with on some level.
While this album might not be as luscious or dynamic as some of her previous work, it does present an artist who is dedicated to expression, but not in grand gestures. It is reminiscent of Kaitlyn Aurelia-Smith’s recent album The Kid in its desire to explore nature through artificial sounds – even though it is sonically much less busy than that album. Ultimately, A flame my love, a frequency is an intimate voyage of a single human soul through nature, and the minimalistic synth compositions she has used to render this prove to be an ideal vessel.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 27th October 2017.