Over the years, the freshness and majesty of the great outdoors have been a major part of Benoît Pioulard's music, and never more so than on his two 2019 albums. On Avocationals, he and longtime friend Sean Curtis Patrick dove into the Great Lakes and its shipwrecks with gorgeously murky results. On Sylva, his explorations are wide instead of deep, melding field recordings from trips to Montana, Hawaii, and his home state of Michigan into gliding ambient tracks that make the most of his music's essential nature (pun intended). Pioulard's Morr Music debut flows so organically that it makes picking highlights difficult, but "Raze I" and "Raze II" are two of its loveliest moments: On the former, he introduces the radiant synth washes and chiming vibraphones that he gives a dusky poignancy on the latter track with Caroline Shaw's graceful vocals. Likewise, two songs Pioulard includes on Sylva are reminders of how affecting his pop-oriented music is. "Keep," which he wrote in honor of the plants he accidentally crushed on all of his hikes, gently pushes his musings forward with brushed percussion that's as purposeful and contemplative as a good walk in the woods. "Meristem," an uplifting tribute to his late brother, is heightened by Pioulard's bittersweet harmonies and Freya Creech's empathetic work on the violin. Though it never gets quite as dark as Avocationals, Sylva often recalls that album's sonic heft. On "Tantivy," Pioulard engulfs listeners in drones that are equally soothing and massive, while "Entheogen"'s streaking sunset tones slowly give way to the lengthy washes of sound that dominated albums such as Hymnal. All told, Sylva attests to nature's boundless power to inspire -- and how well Pioulard transforms that inspiration into music that's just as beautiful.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares