Music Reviews
Un Autre Decembre

Sylvain Chauveau Un Autre Decembre

(Fat Cat) Rating - 9/10

If you have a handlebar moustache and drink Jack Daniels, or think Peaches is a genius, or are wearing neon ankle warmers, you can look away now. The difficult to spell Frenchman Sylvain Chauveau's Un Autre Décembre is as far from the zeitgeist of contemporary music and fashion as an amateur French pianist could get. Like other French geniuses Daft Punk, although in a completely different field, Sylvain Chauveau started out as a guitarist and singer in rock bands; he is also a member of Micro:Mega with Frederic Luneau, and Arca, with Joan Cambon. No. I have no idea about them, either.

A self-taught pianist, who claims not even to be able to read music or even know what notes he is playing, Chauveau's two solo efforts, Le Livre Noire Du Capitalisme (2000) and Nocturne Impalpable (2001) were not released outside France, and Un Autre Décembre is thus the first chance for Anglo audiences to sample the icy beauty of his work other than on unlikely imports.

His sound has become progressively more recognised in France, and he has moved from his native Toulouse to Paris. His first two albums brought him to the attention of the Belgian director Thomas de Thiers's, and Chauveau has penned a soundtrack for Des Plumes Dans La Tête, which is due out later this year. He's been compared to similarly sparse pianist Yann Tiersen, composer of the soundtrack to the bubblegum-sweet hit Amelie.

Chauveau drew his title from Jacques Brel's Jaurès, in which the author describes life in mining towns in the North of France where life was so grindingly repetitive that each month was 'another December'. Despite the astonishing emptiness of his compositions it's easy to detect a line of avant-garde composers and musicians feeding into his work, a pedigree as diverse as Erik Satie, Maurice Ravel, through to musique concrete and the electro-acoustic of Pierre Henry or Luc Ferrari. In interviews he has spoken about the influence on his work of the French filmmaker Robert Bresson and his Notes On Cinematography, with their plea for sparseness, repose and simplicity. It's all high-minded stuff indeed, but what's remarkable about Un Autre Décembre is the dedication to keep music to an absolute bare minimum. You'll spend much of this album waiting for the next note, as Chauveau teases astonishing emotional depths from an art of silence, measure and stillness.

Nothing's wasted, nothing's unnecessary, and the overall effect is breathtaking. It's the soundtrack The Double Life of Veronique should have had. Even when Chauveau shifts away from the piano, for example granulation 2 with it's meta-Eno background noises, or il fait nuit noire à berlin, or on the song to end the world, du rêve dans les yeux, where a sole accordion laments the death of love in the modern world (probably), he still presents some of the most sublimely minimalist work one will hear.

There's not much more to be said about Un Autre Décembre. At only 23 minutes long, it's even sparse in terms of length. But it's also, just, very nearly perfect. A tiny piece of beauty in an ugly world.