First a word about the label. Dur et Doux “defends a singular vision of amplified music”, they tell us. I have experienced the music of Ni and PoiL, both on the label roster, and it’s clearly a collective for interesting and creative sounds and structures. As for Chromb!, this is a rock band with a synthesiser and saxophone, but no guitarist. “Le Livre des Merveilles” (The Book of Wonders) is the band’s fourth title and inspired by a 13th century work of the same name by Gervais de Tilbury. It is described as somewhere “between medievalism and futurism”.
“What sound is that?”, asked my wife, imagining there was a domestic plumbing emergency in the house. I had forgotten to put my headphones in. This is weird music for weird times. Minimalist sounds, squeals, bird sounds, monochrome tapping, violent cosmic explosions and an off beat vocal combo make up this ode to insanity, alias the title track. It all goes haywire at the end but it was never normal to stat. It’s all avant-garde and if I described this collection of alien sounds as experimental, I wouldn’t be doing it justice. “Le Fleuve Brison” begins. The Chromb! Choir put out another delicate childlike little ditty. Pitter-pattery extra-terrestrial trip hop weirdness forms the backdrop to this cosmic vaudeville. There is a song in there somewhere, I promise. The choirboys have to deal with mechanical-industrial intrusion. Les pauvres. Then there is shape. I even felt some emotion as “Le Fleuve Brison” rises in its own epic way to a climax before returning to sombre cosmic waves.
“Les Chevaliers qui Apparaissent” (The Knights who Appear) starts in a sinister tone. The scene is misty and atmospheric. Obscure fluty machinations are going on in the background. Where the first two pieces had a playful element, this one has menacing tones. It is a sinister slice of dark electronica. The sounds of the jungle can be heard as the tension heightens. Somebody or something is out there in this cosmic gloom. It plays out like a train running over a slippery rail. I have no idea whether the knights appeared or not. “La Souvenance d’Achille” (The Memory of Achilles) takes us back to the minimalist drum beat. The vocalist chants in a tone which oddly sounds like Ross of Haken. But this has no colour. It is gloomy and funereal. Cacophonous sonic waves intervene. But out of the ghoulish cacophony arises deep sadness, demonstrating the emotive power of this most eccentric of works.
The title is not wrong. This is wonderful. This all has shades of Stockhausen and early Kraftwerk but with a very bizarre form of chamber music, electronic cosmic waves and a great deal of uninhibited minimalist imagination. “Le Livre des Merveilles” is totally round the bend, atmospheric and creative to the point of exceeding insanity. It’s a good bit of escapism, if you’re seeking it for any reason.
(9/10 Andrew Doherty)