I suppose the first question I wanted to ask was why Seattle’s Thomas Meluch records under the name Benoît Pioulard.
“It appeared in a dream during a semester at university in which I was taking a few French classes – I woke up, wrote it down and found it a week later when I was putting together a CD of new recordings for my friend Jakub.” I take that as a perfectly suitable answer given the often dreamlike music he creates.
The music of Benoît Pioulard would have fit well with the early eighties minimalist post-punk scene. I can easily imagine him sharing a bill with The Young Marble Giants, Felt, Durutti Column or Eyeless in Gaza. But Thomas is very much a contemporary minimalist. And by “minimalist” I don’t mean in the musical vein of Steve Reich et al. I mean in terms of his relationship to material goods, to consumption and the means of creation. In terms of using what’s to hand in the production process as those early post-punk groups did. “We don’t need to make any more stuff” he tells me during an improvised photo shoot in a Seattle parking lot around the corner from Everyday Music and Elliot Bay Books (ground zero for those of us who still love hard copies of cultural artifacts). And he needs nothing more than Apple’s Garageband to create his music.
His is a wistful but sharp brand of introspective, atmospheric almost pop music. As he puts it: “I make textured & harmonic things primarily with guitar, tapes and voice.” The songs may seem low-fi at first but they’re superbly mastered and his soft, beautiful clear voice is frequently set back in the mix. They could almost be heard as collages, with solid, conventional song foundations overlaid with distortion, warbling analog tape, tastefully applied electronic atmospherics and snippets of field recordings. His lyrics are very personal, often reading like inner dialogues about disappointment, thwarted expectation, simple joys and wonder laced with references to the elements and the cosmos. Exemplary song title? How about The Sun is Going to Explode But Whatever It’s OK. And if you have difficulty making the words out they are, like in olden times, reproduced in the CD booklets at a readable scale. They are worth your time.
He also excels at long form soundscapes shot through with melancholy and adorned with gently abraded indefinable sonic detritus. Two years ago Thomas injured his wrist and put out a piece called Radial on Bandcamp. It sounds not unlike something from Eno’s first collection of Music For Films but with added length and a bit more grit to get lost in. The cover (see above) features his x-rays from the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. “My wife and I were hiking up to Snow Lake on our sixth anniversary, I hopped off the trail to get a photo and on my way back up got a poor footing on a slick boulder – slipped and landed on my wrist, palm out. I knew immediately what happened.” The single piece is titled The Very Center of its Flame. It’s beautiful and painful simultaneously. And that is a hard thing to get right in music of any genre.
Also from 2016 is Thine, a three track digital EP (cover image above). The first takes its cue from late 70s Eno; Music For Airports meets Discreet Music. On the second there is even a hint of Ariel Kalma’s Osmose (now we’re getting obscure). But the three tracks, Ribbon, Loire and Minuet pay any debts with interest. Both of these releases are among the less than ten “digital only” releases I’ve ever bought.
Thomas is, not surprisingly, a fan of the Polaroid SX70 and he has a great eye. He creates beautiful images often featuring natural elements of the Pacific Northwest sometimes refracted through translucent or reflective found objects/materials. His photographs manage to capture the wet, sunlit flora of the region in a deeply felt way, like someone who’s long absorbed the landscape and can snatch moments of beauty out of the damp air. At the end of the day, that is the best most of us can hope for.
Benoît Pioulard plays the Red Gate on October 19th with Marcus Fischer and Hotel Neon.
He has a new CD out on Kranky called The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter. Please check out his music here: