Benoît Pioulard

Hymnal

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In the three years between Lasted and Hymnal, Thomas Meluch collaborated with the Sight Below's Rafael Anton Irisarri on their Orcas project, and spent a year recording in southeastern England and Europe. As the title of his fourth Benoit Pioulard album suggests, Meluch was inspired by the religious iconography and churches he saw during his travels, and they seem to have helped him focus the transcendent drones and delicate folk already present in his music. Throughout Hymnal, he artfully combines and separates these sounds; as on Lasted, these songs sound more rooted and substantial than on his early albums, where it seemed like a slight breeze could send them spinning in any direction. Songs such as "Hawkeye," where the melody's minor-key descent resolves into major-key bliss in a way that's equally subtle and surprising, show that his songwriting continues to mature while retaining the nimble fragility that made it unique (as on the lovely "Excave"). There are also nods to tradition in "Reliquary"'s sacred music-inspired harmonies or the gorgeous, Nick Drake-like chamber folk of "Litiya," but Meluch isn't hidebound to recapturing any particular sound or era. However, his biggest steps forward are on Hymnal's ambient tracks. Where previously they might have been pretty aural palate cleansers in between his more structured pieces, here they take on lives of their own and resonate with newfound intimacy and intensity. "Gospel" lets a richly rounded drone abide for over six minutes as it slowly turns and unfolds, making for one of the longest and most impressive pieces of its kind that Meluch has crafted; "Censer," though half as long, is remarkably emotive in the way its tones flicker and layer over each other. And then there's "Knell," which blends church bells, chirping birds and other found sounds with pristine electronics that suggest the outdoors is just as sacred as any cathedral. Meluch's work as Benoit Pioulard has been remarkably consistent since the beginning, and while the changes he makes from album to album have been small, Hymnal's serene beauty may make it his most sublime music yet.

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