ERIC CHENAUX – ” Say Laura “

Posted: June 9, 2022 in MUSIC

Permit some warranted hyperbole: the Canadian songwriter has one of the all-time great singing voices in popular music, an intensely romantic Chet Baker-ish instrument that seems to float with piercing direction, like a paper aeroplane thrown hard through mist. Backed with his equally distinctive burbling guitar, “Say Laura” is a perfect gateway to his oeuvre with some of his loveliest compositions – and There They Were may be his best ever. 

“This constant shift between dream and reality, between the ground and a consciousness-expanding dimension, is what makes Eric Chenaux records so precious and unique. The ultimate and safe mind-altering experience. Not to be missed.” – The Quietus

“As delicate and lovely as a rare orchid, the album follows its own inner logic, with the songwriter guiding us through a wide-open landscape that’s unusual but strangely familiar all the same.” – Uncut

“Beguiling. An album brimming with a sublime alien balladry.” – Record Collector

Chenaux is instantly recognisable as a phenom, finding endless new patterns for melodies to converge and separate and take the long road home.” – YellowGreenRed

“When he’s soloing, it sounds like his instrument is made of wax and he’s playing in a warm room, all the notes are bending and sliding and drooping. It’s got this slippery warmth to it.” ATTN Crucial Listening

There are surface parallels between “Say Laura” and Arthur Russell’s minimal avant pop, but there are also more subtle similarities to Talk Talk’s floating ambience, the most stripped-down Sun Ra sessions, and the boundless curiosity and willingness to chase impulses that This Heat’s Gareth Williams explored with the sideways song writing of his obscure Flaming Tunes side project. In less careful hands, the combination of free range guitar exploration and crooning vocals could come off as awkward or disjointed, but Chenaux’s patient guidance makes even the most disruptive moments of “Say Laura” feel sweet” – All Music

“Compelling… songwriting that’s atypical and free from boundaries, driven by a commitment to unexpected sounds and uninhibited exploration.” – The Wire

The new record by Eric Chenaux is his most immaculate and pristine. “Say Laura” perfectly incarnates the counter-intuitive interplay of instrument and voice that Chenaux has been revealing and revelling in throughout the past decade: his gently unhinged juxtaposition of resplendently smooth, seductively assured singing and puckish, frazzled, thoroughly destabilized guitar could come from no other musician. The five wandering, wondering ballads on “Say Laura” bring Chenaux’s semi-improvised but keenly intentional song writing to its fullest, clearest, warmest and coolest articulation; uncompromising and generous, hyper-specific and loose, spartan and luxurious, elemental and ornate.

“Say Laura” might as well be a jazz record — certainly as much as his previously acclaimed albums Slowly Paradise and Skullsplitter tread that genre-adjacent territory — though it also features moments and melodies that come as close to pop flirtation as Chenaux is likely to get. But above all, “Say Laura” breathes like no other Chenaux album. Voice and guitar are inscribed with elemental clarity in a wondrously open, symbiotic sonic space. His pure tenor croon glides through a crisp, reverberant ether while his fried guitar careens dizzily and giddily, every gesture and timbre captured in unflinching detail by engineer Cyril Harrison.

Chenaux has also made his most minimal, controlled, regulated and rhythmic record. Citing a spectrum of influences — Sun Ra, Jeanne Lee, Gang Starr, Charlie Parker, Betty Carter, EPMD and Thelonious Monk — “Say Laura” expands on a foot-pedal technique Chenaux has previously used here and there, taking things to a more programmatic level: beats composed on a Boss drum machine are used as noise gate triggers, slowed down and inserted into his guitar signal path to create tempered pulses.

Opener “Hello, How? And Hey” immediately establishes these subtly heightened characteristics of elementalism, dualism and structure, with Chenaux’s vocal tracing gorgeous soaring melodies across a single beating chord, occupying all the space until guitar and Wurlitzer (courtesy of the album’s only guest, long-time collaborator Ryan Driver) enter in a cascade of twinkle and wah at the two-minute mark, eventually leaving the vocal behind as the song’s second half gives way to a woozy guitar and keyboard improv over the chordal pulse. Album closer “Hold The Line” follows a similar motif, the vocal playing more on folk and pop tropes, but wrapping up in time for a gloriously gnarled eight-minute instrumental ramble. “There They Were” is something closer to unprecedented in Chenaux’s twenty-year songbook: singing and soloing at the same time, he breathlessly repeats a joyous highlife-tinged vocal refrain without pause, cutting against his trademark languorous pace, propelling the song for miles. Title track and lead single “Say Laura” is the centre piece distillation of the album’s stylistic, compositional and spatial mission: sparse but lush, controlled but wild, every note in its place and all over the place.

Interviewed as The Wire magazine’s cover star in 2017, Chenaux said “the details of our lives are often produced with improvisation and experimentation and in my music, improvisation is a way to hear those details I would not likely be able to hear otherwise.” The details on “Say Laura” achieve new heights of lucid acuity. Eric Chenaux just keeps getting better, and “Say Laura” captures him at his best.

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