Sunday, December 9, 2007

tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur?

there are a lot of words that describe geneviève castrée, the artist who performs as woelv, but, somehow, none of them seem right. it turns out i lied to you back on the last day of november, when i claimed that the year might well be over as far as seriously good music goes, and no, 8 diagrams is not the reason why. i had forgotten about woelv, who i saw opening for mount eerie in a church basement, who was releasing her seventh (!!!) album (though only her second full-length as woelv) on december 4. seriously, how does someone put out sixth albums without going some sort of internet notoriety? don't blogs exist so that that doesn't happen anymore? anyway, her impossibly titled album, tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur?, was released five days ago by k records, during which time it has utterly seduced me with its bizarre drama and hopeful anxiety.

geneviève castrée is québécoise, a graphic illustrator and painter from the suburbs of montréal. she taught herself guitar in order to create songs to accompany her paintings. indeed, castrée's method for understanding tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? best is to get the "book-record" lp version, which comes with a 60-page book of artwork and translation from french to english. ...wish i'd known about that version before i got the cd. the album is sung entirely by castrée in french. recently on tour with mount eerie, castrée is a close confidant of phil elverum's, and her naturalistic style often mimics his [elverum also appears on "(réconciliation)"]. woelv, however, sings about a different nature than mount eerie, whose songs are gentle and respectful; castrée is anxious and nervous, caring and doting, confused yet assured, and her paradoxes are woelv's heartbeat.

there are a lot of pictures of woelv out there, but this one in particular, striking and evocative, sums up woelv's aesthetic, oddly paradoxical though that seems. cathartic yet self-reflective, castrée's music is minimal to nearly the extreme, though its beauty is something to behold when she rips the silence to shreds, whaling on her guitar and wailing her lungs out. the disparity of the two, clearest on "drapeau blanc," tout's first song. it builds tentatively, cautiously, as castrée builds her loops, stringing her voices together in a choir. a harsh drumbeat lifts the song's energy, accompanied by raw, dissonant shrieks from castrée, beautiful and terrible, before it abruptly subsides, leaving a hole where none existed before.

i like to think of tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? as two things: cold music and headphone music. i've been listening to this album while traveling to work the past few days, with the wind slicing down my neck, and i can't imagine listening to woelv in any other way. there is a stillness to tout that suggests a silent winter forest, and a tremulousness chill in castrée's voice that cannot be soothed by the summer sun. in addition, castrée's voice sounds like a fusion of björk's and jónsi birgisson's, and has seemed to absorb by association (they're from iceland. she's from canada. those places are cold!) their wildly stylized yet implicitly naturalistic vocal renderings. like the wind whispering across ice or through trees (as it literally does on tout's title song), castrée sounds like the voice of winter. oh, and the fact that lots of her press photos feature her bundled in this warm red coat helps with the winter analogy as well.

i was listening to tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? on my way home tonight, when i realized how loathe i was to listen to the album on my stereo. there is a raw intimacy in listening to woelv on headphones, the music rich in your skull, every nuance enjoyed and wondered at. castrée's voice is remarkable, childish yet mature, a strong foundation for woelv's songs, which can really only be appreciated on a (good) pair of headphones. i know all music is better on headphones, but this is one of the rare few that really should only be listened to on headphones. songs like the (nearly) acapella "la mort et le chien obèse" are painstakingly constructed around castrée's vocal loops, which are almost indistinguishable on a stereo. a real connection is felt, a bridge between you and woelv, that is the emotional crux of her music, one that i feel best through headphones.

my one real complaint about tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? is its haste. not its brevity - i think the album is a good length - but the little time for reflection we get between songs. especially in the beginning of the album, when we need the time to process song by song, we instead get five songs practically overlapping. woelv's music is so striking, so bizarrely compelling, that it requires time to digest, to be comprehended. also, geneviève castrée may think that i would enjoy her album more if i had the translation in front of me, but i in no way feel hindered by the language barrier - i even find it liberating. i can get lost in her sounds, the lilt of her voice as it climbs octaves, the gorgeous lo-fi equality of the sound, the true complexity of her loops, which i would have a much harder time doing if i was translating every phrase. as mr. mammoth readers know, i'm no stranger to non-english music, and i find castrée's music all the more beautiful for my own inaccessibility to its true meanings. tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? is an open-ended story, a choose your own adventure, and i like it that way.

"drapeau blanc" & "sous mon manteau"

buy tout seul dans la forêt en plein jour, avez-vous peur? from k records.

stream the album (if you don't believe me on how good it is) here.


Nels Nelson said...

What a voice

David said...


I hadnt heard of Woelv until your post here but after downloading those tracks I've been blown away...such a great voice!Thanks for the tip...I shall be picking up the album after Christmas. Have a good one!