Gabriel Keller 2022

Clair Obscur

Fathoming crepuscular creep through enchanting tunes and heavy thunder, French multi-instrumentalist states his intent to take a stand on progressive scene.

This Lyon-based artist leads a dangerous game on his full-length debut, first luring the listener in with the light of folk-informed and chamber-tinctured melodies and then offering gloomy riffs as though defining the yin-yang swirl of existence, but taking creative – and explorative – risks are part of what Gabriel Keller and his audience find so interesting. Even more so, such a Möbius-esque concept is liberating enough for him to freely go for a concerto approach and deploy entire strings and brass sections for “Clair Obscur” to come across as a statement of sorts and have aural grandeur undermined by sonic onslaught only for the latter to reveal its link to the former and sketch a bridge back to the album’s initial luminescence.

The results of this method are mesmeric to say the least, drawing tension from the acoustic lining and electric lightning of the overture-like “Tumulte” onwards, via Keller’s cosmic synthesizers and orchestral guitars, to the place where guest singers, female voices on top, and instrumentalists work a wondrous oratorio out of ethereal, yet simultaneously robust, music, It’s not devoid of pop-appeal as the groovy “Time” demonstrates in style before “Train To Resolution” reveals a filigreed core of the otherwise stark arrangement, elevating the slider-caressed vista to celestial heights and to the arresting “Open Arms” that weaves a bluesy web from traditional threads and the sentimental “Melancholia” that’s cooed in French over a middle-of-the-road background. However, there’s a sadness-filled, baroque flow to the piano-rippled “Sonate Au Clair Obscur” that soars on metal wings which carry the piece to chthonic depth and choral despair and prepare one for the spectral drama of “Nothing Human” whose histrionic hysteria will be fed into “Out Of My Life” that ties epic passages onto the murky art-rock panorama until the Eastern harmonies and wails of “Honey” break the spell.

And then, the finale of it all is the delicate “Accalmie” which fleshes out wordless vocalese with a jaunty, vibrant tune able to thaw the coldest heart and endear the whole album to the most cynical critic. If there’s a need for nocturnal delights, “Clair Obscur” has plenty of these.


August 1, 2023

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