By Tate Bengston
Amesoeurs talks much of how the modern world – all of its degeneration, its perversion, and its urbanization – serves as an inspiration for its music. This inspiration was well-represented on the brilliant three-song EP, Ruines Humaines, released in 2006. This release perfectly encapsulated the disgust, confusion, melancholy, and misery of the anomic individual planted smack-dab in the middle of an urban environment. It made its point with a concision that left its fans hungering for an expanded statement, a statement capable of exploring Amesoeurs’ concept and sound in greater detail.
However, change was afoot. The pre-release announcements spoke plainly of Amesoeurs’ shift in direction. The virtues of new wave and post-punk were extolled, with Amesoeurs citing The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division as touchstones for its new sound. Lines in the sand were hastily drawn by fans, well prior to the album actually being heard let alone released. I found myself taking up an ambivalent position, apprehensive that the change in direction might disperse the band’s creative energy but intrigued over how these new techniques might enhance the conceptual voyage.
Alas, the result justified my apprehension and failed to add to the conceptual apparatus (actually, it detracted from the latter).
Amesoeurs differs in many ways from its predecessor. It alternates between a minority of black metal tracks and a majority of gothpop ditties, inverting the balance heard on Ruines Humaines. Occasionally, Amesoeurs attempts to blend the two paths into a single song, although this meets with limited success, particularly when a gothpop song attempts to become more aggressive (as heard on the laughable and unlistenable conclusion to “La Reine Trayeuse”). Corresponding to this shift, the saccharine yet detached singing of Audrey Sylvain has been given an enlarged role while Neige relegates himself to a secondary position that befits his tepid delivery. The jangly guitar parts, which appear to be trying to insert the melodrama of The Cure into a shoegaze aesthetic, come across as emotionally underwhelming and sonically emaciated. Moreover, the basic guitar approach – strictly limited to black metal and pop modes – is repeated ad nauseum without exploring the variation that could rest within specific applications. Perhaps Amesoeurs was seeking to create a “total album effect” by repeating certain motifs, but this strategy requires either dynamics or gravity in order to succeed; neither is heard on this album. The minimalist drum patterns are unexciting but unobtrusive, which is suitable for this kind of music as it allows the bass guitar – the one true star of the show – to undulate and spelunk in a fashion that recalls Joy Division.
Even the band’s apparent – and probably self-conscious – attempt to pre-empt its detractors, in the form of the aggressive and noisy “Trouble (Éveils Infâmes)” is not particularly rewarding, crumbling as it does into a tumultuous squalor after struggling through an aggressive uptempo section and only briefly hinting at promise during the monstrous riff that emerges during the midtempo section. Thankfully, the fast-paced aggression is executed with greater conviction on “Au Crépuscule de Nos Rêves,” the final track and also the one song where it truly feels as if Amesoeurs has any clue how to take its disparate influences and fuse them into something that has depth, passion, and excitement. Alas, it is too little, too late.
There appears to be two ways in which this album has been received: either with a celebration of its diversity or a sneer over its pretensions to expanded musical horizons. Neither hits the nail on its head. This album is bad not because it is a hybrid but because it fails to do either of the genres which it hybridizes an ounce of justice.
Amesoeurs claims that it grapples with the modern world in its music. On the preceding EP, this was a persuasive assertion. If Amesoeurs still chooses to hold itself up as a sonic social critic, then this album can only be taken as criticism if it is approached as parody. My sense is that this was not the intention behind Amesoeurs.