Nicolas Godin

(CD - #5032967)

Review by Heather Phares

A quote from pianist Glenn Gould appears on Nicolas Godin's first solo album Contrepoint: "All the basic statements have been made for posterity, now I think what we must do is try to find our way around these things … to find a raison d'etre." Though Gould died in 1982, his words sum up the challenge of being a musician in the 21st century, when it not only seems like everything has been done before, but there's recorded proof that it has been. On Contrepoint, Godin rises to this challenge. Inspired by Gould's interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach's works, Godin uses the composer's pieces as the starting point for each of the album's excursions. The bracing album-opener "Orca," which is based on "Prelude & Fugue No. 3 in C# Major," is the most typical electro-pop/classical hybrid, its analog synths and intense counterpoint conjuring visions of Switched on Bach. On the rest of the album, however, Godin riffs on his legacy as one-half of Air as much as he does Gould or Bach's work. He expands on the omnivorous musical literacy that makes Air a cerebral delight as well as a sensual one: "Clara," which features Brazilian singer Marcelo Camelo, has a mellow '70s vibe that suggests a sunnier version of The Virgin Suicides, while "Widerstehe Doch der Sünde"'s tumbling timpani bridges its classical roots and the '60s instrumental pop that begat Moon Safari, taking the piece far beyond its origins as a church cantata. Here and throughout Contrepoint, Godin layers not just melodies and instruments, but genres, eras, and cultures in unexpected and delightful ways. "Club Nine" throws the unmistakable brushed rhythm of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" into the mix, with lively and mysterious results. Meanwhile, "Bach Off" explores an album's worth of ideas in seven minutes, touching on exotica, jazz, synth-pop as well as classical, at times suggesting a chamber ensemble lost in a dense jungle. By the time Godin closes the album with "Elfe Man"'s sugar-sprinkled chromatic percussion and pizzicato strings, he's taken listeners on a journey that presents inspiration as a dialogue rather than a solitary pursuit. A lovely, stimulating debut album, Contrepoint is a beautifully written love letter to musical history and creativity.