Eric Chenaux — Skullsplitter
Album release: February 17, 2015
Record Label: Constellation
1 Have I Lost My Eyes? 4:53
2 The Pouget 2:05
3 Skullsplitter 3:32
4 My Romance 4:23
5 Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming 4:31
6 The Henri Favourite 2:18
7 Poor Time 8:08
8 Le Vieux Favori 6:14
9 Summer & Time 6:01
♦♦♦ Eric Chenaux: Voice, electric guitar, un–amplified electric guitar, nylon–string guitar, speakers, melodica and electronics
♦♦♦ Recorded at various locations and mixed at Hotel2Tango by Radwan Ghazi Moumneh. Additional engineering by Eric Chenaux and Cyril Harrison. Mastered by Harris Newman. Produced by Eric Chenaux, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh and Constellation.
♦♦♦ All songs by Eric Chenaux except "My Romance" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
By Tom Beedham, Published Feb 13, 2015, Score: 9
♦♦♦ For the uninitiated, the wide–wobbling and out–of–step guitar sounds that dominate the first minute and 22 seconds of Skullsplitter might seem like a test of dedication. But when Eric Chenaux's falsetto chimes in to muse, "Have I lost my eyes? ♦♦♦ Is that twinkle in my mind?" they'll learn there's no option to turn away. On his first proper solo album for Constellation Records, Chenaux's combination of hacked music box guitar experimentation and lonely lounge crooning conjures a spell simply too enchanting to break.
♦♦♦ Full of woozy ballads punctuated by gorgeous, adventurous electric and nylon–stringed guitar instrumentals, Skullsplitter is obsessed with the theme of time's onward march, and over its course — especially on "Spring Has Been A Long Time Coming," "Poor Time," "Summer & Time" and the title track — Chenaux launches a thorough poetic investigation of the seasons and the cyclical nature of time and space.
♦♦♦ It's particularly significant, then, that "Have I Lost My Eyes?" and "Skullsplitter" find Chenaux reaching into his back catalogue to produce more intimate, nearly unrecognizable renditions of cuts from 2008's Sloppy Ground and 2006's Dull Lights; Chenaux even explored Rodgers and Hart standard "My Romance" before on his 2003 release with the Reveries, Blasé Kisses.
♦♦♦ Skullsplitter dispatches the listener on a mission to crack the mysteries of time and space, and without offering much in the way of answers, its potential for repeat listens is enough of a reward. Skullsplitter is a triumph of post–modern songwriting, where decisions can be recast and repurposed to suit the needs of the present. ♦♦♦ http://exclaim.ca/
February 22, 2015, Rating: 9 outta 10
♦♦♦ Do you have a case of the winter blahs? Have I got the tonic for you! It comes in the form of Eric Chenaux’s latest offering, Skullsplitter, and if the title wasn’t evocative enough for you in terms of describing what it is like to live through the Polar Vortex, well, the whole album is thematically about the wait for summertime. The album gets warmer and more, I guess, “musical” as it goes along. But, to start with, it can be a bit avant–garde and offputting until you realize what a definitive artistic statement this is. And with a song titled “Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming”, you definitely get the impression that the album’s late winter release date is a foregone conclusion. However, as much as this is a record about waiting for the change of seasons, Chenaux does dip into his back catalogue for warped interpretations of songs that already appeared on 2006’s Dull Lights and 2008’s Sloppy Ground. To wit, there’s a cover of the Rodgers and Hart song “My Romance” that Chenaux has covered before on 2003’s Blasé Kisses, his release with the Reveries. So this is an album about reinterpreting the past as much as it is about longing for warmer weather. Well, given the cold February that Ottawa has been going through, the timing couldn’t be more perfect!
♦♦♦ “You can forget what it’s like / Summer and time,” Cheneax intones on the final track, but it’s a long, but delightful slush getting there. “Have I Lost My Eyes?”, the opening cut, is full of widely distorted wah–wah guitar that shows Chenaux working his foot pedals to the max with all sort of reverb and delay, but when his vocals swoop in, they point a different direction to the “warped” sound of the music. He has a very bluesy voice that is sweet and caramel, and it’s almost something that veers into R ‘n’ B territory. “I can’t see the fallen leaves,” he sings, talking about snow blindness and the track conjures up visions of frostbite and frozen toes. In a painterly sense, there’s the image of having your eyes glued shut from the blowing snow and the cold, and given the season of this disc’s release, one deftly feels the pain of winter. The guitar work just underscores the shimmery sense of the season, but one where you’re constantly on your toes, waiting for things to warm up, waiting for the change. The title track, meanwhile, is haunting. You will shiver and metaphorically blow the cold from your hands as you try to warm them from a burning oil barrel. The sound is, again, one of a warped guitar that has been twisted to sound like a hurdy–gurdy that’s on its dying legs. It’s mournful and sad, and absolutely penetrating. “To get us the winter / A real skullsplitter,” Chenaux sings here, and that’s the theme of the early half of the record, simply one of trying to bide time and wait for change to begin.
♦♦♦ Chenaux’s take on “My Romance” is dissonant and the line between Broadway standard and experimental music is blurred. Again, the listener will wonder if they’ve been blinded by the frigid air, and the sound is lonesome and sad. Interestingly, the song is without vocals, and this instrumental passage is stunning to say the least. There’s a deep feeling of emotion at work, that something could be said without words, and that idea is compelling and forceful. The aforementioned “Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming” is almost Delta blues, but scratched beyond all recognition. The song bends around itself with Chenaux sounding particularly forlorn. Even as the weather warms up, there’s still a thawing, that spring may have come too late, that the winter was too long, and the insufferable nature of the season is just too much to bear. The eight–minute “Poor Time” is like looking through a funhouse mirror with your ears. Everything is bent out of shape, and there are melodies running counter to the main melody. However, it is here that the thaw is evident. There’s a warmth and grittiness to the sound, and that comes to its full fruition with “Summer & Time”, played straight on a nylon string guitar, even though the shape shifting nature of the melody running underneath is still angular and expressive. “I put a light on the floor / So it could be seen,” sings Cheneux, and it is here when hope springs eternal.
♦♦♦ Overall, Skullsplitter is a fascinating, arty record. While it might not be to every taste, it is certainly a musical affair — which is perhaps unusual given that this is out on the experimental Constellation label. That root in the musical, but willingness to bend around tradition, is what makes this disc so phenomenal. It’s an adventure the first time you listen to it, and coming back to it again and again still yields much fertile pleasures. Again, there’s perfection in the timing of release — on the cusp of the ending of one season, and the beginning of a new, brighter and warmer season — and that conveys hope to the listener. Yes, Canadian winters can be tough (sometimes I wonder why people bother to live here just based on the climate), but there’s always the promise of something better around the bend, even though, that, too, is fleeting — once again, we’ll be back in winter before anyone knows it. Still, there’s interesting and strange things at work on this release, and it is a hypnotic one. It really is about the passing of time, as much as it is about the passing of seasons, and, yet, this is not a platter about growing old or losing another year of your life. Indeed, there is much to be gained by simply hibernating and waiting for the cold to end. For that reminder, Chenaux’s record is a masterstroke, and anyone interested in experimental music, or, dare I say?, post rock, will gain much pleasure out of this record, about, in my mind, the most unpleasant and cruel of all seasons.
By Sam Shepherd | posted on 17 Feb 2015 | Score: ****