Cécile Schott builds intricate worlds in her music. Sparse songs that seem somewhat simple at first, but reveal complex and emotional pieces that balance on melancholy and dream-like atmospheres. Schott creates these worlds on her own as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, and has been making records for around 20 years now. Her last album, 2017s excellent A Flame My Love, A Frequency, saw a shift in sound as she explored composition thru a Critter and Guitari Synthesizer, setting her viola da gamba aside for these tracks. It opened new sonic avenues for Schott and pushed Colleen’s musical world even further.
On her newest album, The Tunnel and the Clearing, I hear an even sparser musical world but one heavy with contemplation and existential pondering. Schott built the record around an organ processed thru analog electronics, giving the record a Terry Riley feel. But Schott’s understated vocals gives the album an almost ghostly, haunted feel. Written during and after a long illness, then the pandemic, and ultimately the end of a long relationship, The Tunnel and the Clearing is an album with heavy vibes, but ultimately a sense that light is imminent.
The music of Colleen is about repetition, finding melody in that repetition, and working thru something deep as you pass through the music. I first came to Colleen on her album Captain of None, an album I played constantly. There’s something about her music and voice that I lock into deeply. The Tunnel and the Clearing is no different. There’s a calliope quality to album opener “The Crossing”. It’s less frenetic than earlier work, making me think of the music of Beach House; sleepy, bittersweet, and melancholy. “Revelation” repeats the same organ line over and over as Schott sings over it like a whisper from beyond. “Reveal yourself to me/ O where can you be?/ Do you even exist?” Cécile Schott sings dreamily as the song floats along as if rising from the ether.
Title track “The Tunnel and the Clearing” has this ping-ponging organ line as it builds a galloping rhythm. You can feel this sort of quiet desperation in the music; a sense of searching for something in the darkness. Schott knows to keep it simple, as the simplicity in the organ allows the track to breathe, and plenty of room for us to drop into this world.
“Gazing at Stars – Night Sky Rumba” has a sultry feel with its electronic percussion and distant keys. A sense we are coming to some closure, while album closer “Hidden In The Current” feels like closure. “I am waking /I finally woke up /And stood on my own” are the first words Schott sings in this dreamy, almost psychedelic finish to a glorious musical journey.
Sometimes it takes pain and loss to unlock fortitude that we have hidden away in ourselves. I feel Cécile Schott found that fortitude while making The Tunnel and the Clearing. A glorious, compact masterpiece taking a crisis of self and making vibrant, experimental, and beautiful music. This is a work of subtlety and self-discovery.
8.8 out of 10
‘The Tunnel and the Clearing’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records. Buy it here.