Madlen Keys 2023
Rising from the mist above the Seine, Parisian prog-pop ensemble paint their impressionistic full-length debut in alluring pastels.
A panther’s silhouette emerging from fog is a perfect image to grace the cover of this album, a fantastic reference to rest energy of the enigmatic textures hidden within its pieces and to its title because their entire scope is almost impossible to grasp – at least, at first – but one would find it equally difficult not to get enchanted and engulfed by the music songwriter Caroline Calen and her friends have been brewing for the last five years. There’s no restrained swagger and psychedelic swirl of the quintet’s 2018 EP “In You I’m Lost” on “Event Horizon” which has retained its predecessor’s elegance and augmented original elegiac passages with magnetic nebulousness. And such understated magnificence seems profoundly gratifying.
The band’s freshly found shoegaze-esque chanson-shaped introspection may feel welcomingly intimate in the beginning, in “The Maze” where Mlle Calen’s cooing, choral vocals – laid over exciting strum, cinematic synthetic splashes and invigorating groove – only hint at her operatic approach, which will be revealed further on, yet the ensemble’s sentiment is extravert by nature. Still, surprises abound when the ensemble’s reflective delivery and pop sheen unfold into a captivating panorama for the much more adventurous “Keep A Secret” whose raga meanderings are resolved in an orchestral soundscape that’s shot through with an exquisite, if relentless, piano line. And though “The Stream” offers a folk-informed, electronically rippled landscape for the listener to gradually blend in and triumphantly arise, the mesmeric “Memories Of My Friends” takes them to immense depths before waking those finding such a drift soporific with a symphonic surge followed by Baptiste Mottais’ fluid guitar twang and Grégoire Lozach’s subaquatic bass rumble. However, the album’s dramatic finale “Pensando en ti” – the sole song in French here – fathoms the opposite end of dynamic spectrum via medieval madrigal where male-and-female polyphony and solemn backdrop reflect, on a different scale, the soft current of the record’s opener.
The group’s spirited sonics demonstrate a harder surface on the subtly scintillating “Breathe” that ebbs and flows to envelope one’s ears in kaleidoscopic whirlpool of instrumental nuances and the splintered voices, while “Flaming Tree” allows its slow burn to betray delicate belligerence under the velvet-like shimmer of Antoine Geremia’s ivories which serve as a launchpad for a soaring six-string solo, and “Ubik” turns the collective’s vision into glacial perspective, propelled to infinity by Yann Pousset’s thunderous drums. Extremely riveting, this vision must be shared across vaster spaces.