Christopher Bissonnette – Essays In Idleness (Kranky, 2014)


Christopher Bissonnette’s albums are few and far between; after a 3 year break between his debut and sophomore LPs, Christopher has doubled that hiatus and taken 6 since the gorgeous In Between Words to bring us new content. That being said, I’m glad he’s taken so much time out because the quality of this release is beyond reproach. Angling to deconstruct synth ambience stereotypes, Bissonnette constructed his own audio gear specifically for this release, sounds built from the hardware up, and this refreshingly hands-on and organic approach to music production is apparent in the seemingly spontaneous melodies contained within.

This break from his original sound is notable from the get go with opener “Greenish In Its Light”. That deeply organic nature has still been retained but instead of the manipulation of field recordings and smeared fragments of sound, it blossoms forth warbling and dancing currents of energy, backdropped by a gooey warm drone line bathing the whole piece in sunlight. It takes off slowly as the sun rises and the day becomes firmer, shafts of light slowly making their way through the thick canopy of recharging, photosynthesising plants. But it flits and shifts gears rapidly as “A Deplorable Corruption” comes into view; it manages to hold onto some of those remnant, beauteous notes from the opener but there’s a fraying and noisily destructive edge to them, arriving in gentle but buzzing waves. There’s a definite resignation and crushed acceptance contained within, tiredly allowing those now cliche and typical synth lines to wash over itself with ambivalence, the paucity of its evolution and the sparsity of diversity mirroring some disappointing heterogeneity we’ve become disenchanted with.

“Entanglements” remains content to continue the sleepy, quiet atmospheres this album is slowly building upon, but banishing the growling, frayed inclusions from its predecessor and focusing strongly on piercing and delicate twinklings, spontaneous meanderings bursting out of the dark void that is this piece. It’s extremely minimal and deeply compelling; it sounds random but there’s something to it that also seems to hint at construction that’s so tantalising, like we’re so close to understanding its chaos. But then “Delusions” comes to sweep away that nonsense and ideology with its empowered and overbearing drones, banishing that childlike naivety away with broad brush strokes of lush, oscillating, flanging synth. Its slow rhythms roll over and over, carefully and emphatically repeating themselves with only the merest hint of evolution; the subtle changes in the patterns of speech between each argument but always fundamentally the same. It’s coarser in its later moments but never overwhelmingly so, just abrading enough to make its point clear.

A beautiful doublet is making its way into our hearts though, first with the effortless meanderings of fuzzy “Missing Chapters”. Slow onlaps of reverbed and hazy synth waft in from some distant memory, the whole piece a paralysingly hypnotic exercise in futility as we try to recall an event now absent from our minds. At first there’s an acceptance and dismissal but there are a few minor intrusions of uncomfortable and offkey synth that express temporary frustration at this gap, but they’re swiftly smoothed over and not brought back. Secondly, “Uniformity Is Undesirable” arrives, transforming those hazy migrations of synth drone into clear and sharp edges. We’re held in that dark void once more and allowed to see the full scope of the emergent melodies like we were on “Entanglements” as the wailing, depressive electronica rises out of the blackness, unimpressed and crystal clear in its opinions, not afraid to have its voice heard even if it is alone.

“Another Moving Site” judders into view on cyclical but distal and softened drone, like the revving of some distant generator. It slowly works itself to life, powering up the track and the shimmering and flitting synth fragments begin to intertwine themselves into the fabric of the piece, incrementally becoming more accepted and in the end just another part of the track. The generator continues its throbbing right til the end, but for the first time it changes pitch and then things begin to fade to black in the closing moments as we realise it’s a car or a truck and it slides into the distance, carrying us off with it into closer “Wasting Little”. Actually it’s rather lowkey, possibly the quietest and most refined and introspective piece of the record as it plays out on fragile, violin-esque notes. It’s precious and frail, creeping along with care and precision and making absolutely sure we’re soaking everything in and not wasting a moment, but it is still organically emergent and on the cusp of being non-random, still giving us that lively spontaneity that makes this album so good.

Essays In Idleness appeals to me in ways I find it difficult to define, much like his other releases. I think it’s the fact they always seem to land themselves within Uncanny Valley, forging fundamentally Electronic pieces from rather unconventional origins and freely evolving material, smearing the divide between rigid structure and spontaneously developing texture. I do really like it but I am hesitant because it does feel somewhat…empty, like there’s some emotional hole just taken right out of the core of the album. The individual tracks are pretty and conceptually interesting but feel like lifeless projections; pleasing but stark.