He moves in two directions on Petite Soeur, polishing his sound on the vinyl portion while saving his deeper experiments for the digital bonus tracks.
Charrier is joined on this record by a quartet of additional musicians who play everything from the expected (guitar and percussion) to the unexpected (charango, clarinet). Even the percussion gains an unexpected edge thanks to the derbouka and afuche cabeza. On this album, the guests provide more than just adornment. Charrier is a generous host, launching the album with his own sounds on the title track but fluffing the pillows for charango and guitar on “No Closed to Be”. The percussion grows increasingly prominent throughout the track, and takes over at the start of the next. This attention to detail allows the album to flow smoothly despite the presence of what might otherwise have seemed competing timbres. Each track possesses great internal movement as well; one or two instruments set the table, but the others soon arrive to eat. Even the unassuming maraca finds a place next to the metallophone.
No single track provides an indication of what the album is about, but
“Instant/Moment” comes close, with a slow build of drums, bass and harmonium leading to an explosion of brass. If the other songs and instruments are represented by the paint smears on the cover, “Instant/Moment” is represented by the center splatter. But note: the splatter still lies across a smear. There’s nothing on the main album to knock a listener out of a pleasurable trance. The six minute “Toumimi Tatayé” is even accessible enough to be a single (at least by ACL standards).
There’s a thought experiment that goes something like this: in a room lit only by tones of black and white, a scientist has the ability to investigate all knowledge. All her life, she’s never seen outside of the room. Finally, she’s released into the world, where she experiences colour – would she recognize them as what she’d been studying?
Such it is with ‘Petite Soeur’. If you grew up listening only to this album and someone played you pop music – you’d probably think you were having some kind of seizure. Such is the pacing and tone of it, so far removed from the arms-flailing approach that defines most mainstream fare. It is stately, restrained and monolithic. At no point, however, does it stray too far away from listenable territories. Falling somewhere between neo-classical, post-rock and ambient, the compositions here mine their influences without being beholden, and map new territory without being alienating. “The harmony of noise and the noise of harmony” indeed.
It’s a triumph, and an original one. I can think of few ways to accurately reduce it to it’s constituent parts without taking something away from the experience. If you can, seek out this album – even better, purchase it when you do. A destination worth the journey alone.