Kerber by Yann Tiersen
Multi-instrumentalist, collaborator and songwriter embellishes his piano playing with electronic dubs and samples
Yann Tiersen is probably best known for work on the Amelie soundtrack but a lesser known fact is that he didn't write the music specifically for that film, instead various tracks were picked from his first three albums. Another fact is he makes no claims to be a composer, stating no classical training, but the success of that soundtrack meant his work as a songwriter for film was in constant demand thereafter, even if, like Radiohead's Creep, it felt like a chain round the neck since its success.
In a career spanning more than 20 albums with a long line of celebrated collaborators, he's produced magical melodies with a wide range of musical instruments, notably the piano, guitar, violin and accordion. On Kerber he embraces sound from an electronic origin, with synthesisers and computers playing a subtle but effective role in supporting his piano work. Using electronics like this isn't new or experimental though, after playing in rock bands as a teenager, and influenced by the likes of Einstürzende Neubaten and Suicide, he bought a cheap mixing desk and an eight-track reel and started recording his own music with a synth, sampler and drum machine.
More than 30 years later we have Kerber, an ode to his life on the tiny island of Ushant (a Commune in Brittany, France) where he lives and works. For 48 minutes, we journey through seven tracks drenched in melancholy, wisdom and... mother nature. Subtle and ubiquitous, the highs and lows of island life are depicted by the synthesiser rush of the sea or the prevailing white noise wind; the accompanying film of the same name presents these images more powerfully. A further reference to Ushant comes in the song titles, many beginning with the letters "Ker", like most of the village names.
The piano takes centre stage throughout and the melodies are as delightful and whimsical as those from Amelie. Subtle strings and simple percussion embellish the otherwise skeletal song structures. The electronic treatments are key in transforming the music from Classical to contemporary. Delays and dubs may sound like the damper pedal at times but then an unexpected sound catches your ear. On Ar Maner Kozh a quiet channel of static grows and a cryptic voice whispers out. At the end of Ker al Loch we hear Tiersen at his most electronic, with distorted piano, pulsing synths and other treated effects; we could easily be listening to Nils Frahm or Rival Consoles.
A beautiful album that demonstrates how an artist's sound can evolve while retaining the core elements that make it work.