One of France's best rock exports, Cyann & Ben weave various influences into dreamy space rock panoramas that can be appreciated both for their detail and grand design. The music is epic yet intimate, and lands somewhere between Meddle-era Pink Floyd psychedelia, Sonic Youth drone, and Explosions in the Sky guitar workouts, with folk and prog rock accents lightening an otherwise dark template. Sweet Beliefs is the Paris-based quartet's third and most focused record, synthesizing the group's talent for cinematic, album-length suites rather than individual audio nuggets. The songs typically blend into one another anyway, unfolding in surging, slightly menacing layers of guitar lines, keyboard washes, and droning bass; the tension periodically builds toward cathartic crescendos where dissonance and melody agreeably coexist. That's been Cyann & Ben's formula to date, but on Sweet Beliefs their footing seems even more sure. Growing confidence may also explain the more prominent role vocals play on this record. Cyann's voice recalls Georgia Hubley's whispered approach (Yo La Tengo being another accurate touchstone), and though Ben mostly adds harmony vocals, he also takes the lead effectively on occasion. The record is best digested in its entirety, but there are standout songs: "Sunny Morning" opens with an Eno-esque synth wash, evolving into a stately Low-meets-M83 blend of analog and digital sounds; on "In Union With...," the contrasting organ swells and guitar feedback sound like Thurston Moore recorded in Notre Dame's cavernous space; and the fractured synth gurgles, guitar noise, and tribal beats that open "Guilty" eventually coalesce into a melancholic rush, all the elements intertwined like a Möbius strip. But the record's cohesion almost precludes singling any one song out, much as a film trumps a slide show. And while their music doesn't exactly recall traditional Gallic fare like the chansons of Edith Piaf or Serge Gainsbourg, Cyann & Ben are no less French. This is the sound of vacant, rain-slicked Parisian streets in those few hours before dawn when the tumult briefly recedes and the distinctions between dream life and reality are blissfully blurred. Sweet Beliefs captures that sense of in-between in a gem of a record.
AllMusic Review by John Schacht