[Reviewed by VITRIOL]
Witxes (pronounced ‘witches’) is the project of French musician Maxime Vavasseur. It made its ‘official’ appearance with the critically acclaimed “Sorcery/Geography” (Humanist Records, 2012). With the opportunity of the release of “A Fabric Of Beliefs” Denovali is also re-issuing “Sorcery/Geography” in a limited 150 copies edition of clear gold vinyl. A limited blue vinyl edition of 150 copies also exists for “A Fabric Of Beliefs”, and apart from these limited editions, both albums are available in regular vinyl, CD and digital release.
Not having listened to “Sorcery/Geography” I approach both project and album from a completely novice point of view, devoid of familiarity or reference points. The first impression is strong and long-lasting – a feeling of challenging complexity, of multi-layered, genre-defying experimentation. There are so many different genres presented within the same space that the musician resembles an acrobat, balancing dangerously on a tight rope with no safety net. An abundance of drones in various frequencies and pitches, some played-down elements of progressive here and there, electronic, guitar rock, ambient, free-jazz, even folk and pop coexist in this carefully brewed mélange. Any other musician would have fallen flat on his face and right into a pool of kitsch and self-indulgence, but Maxime Vavasseur seems to be an expert at this, and manages to reach the other end of the rope unscathed. Not just that actually, but there are some amazing tracks in this album. It maintains a consistency of atmosphere and method throughout its execution, and after a few listens it emerges as a coherent musical entity, rather than a bundle of individual tracks gathered together, which is usually the case with cross-genre releases.
Vavasseur’s compositional technique reminds me of Burroughs’ cut-up, as each track contains fragments of many other potential tracks, appearing intermittently and often for a very short period of time, even for just a few seconds. Then another fragment rushes in to take the previous one’s place, and another, and another – a rapid succession of atmospheres and settings, like watching a news reel in fast forward. A news reel not limited to a specific time or place, but either way pertaining to the contemporary era. One of the album’s strongest attributes is the innovative use of rhythm in the compositions, which is not linear and continuous as we would expect from a traditional song, but spontaneous and varying in each track – at some points (like in the first “Abraxas” track) it’s quick and persistent, at other points hesitant or looping. Vavasseur constantly breaks and re-arranges his own rhythmic patterns, thus endowing his music with a post-modern aura. Even in “The Words” which is basically a folk song with acoustic guitar and voice, there’s something non-rhythmic behind the first layer of melody – a little too long a pause after each lyric, a little too long a silence. Some sort of eeriness in an otherwise perfectly normal piece, that doesn’t quite allow us to sit back and classify it as a “nice folk song”.
Judging by the album’s title, its concept has something to do with exploring religious belief through history – I have the impression that each track refers to a mystical experience within that frame. The first three tracks, “Abraxas I”, “II” and “III” are a mixture of compelling rhythmic sequences hovering over crunchy guitars, static noise, melancholic ambience and minimal electronics – with amazing results. “Abraxas III” ends with a massive wall of post-rock guitars, making it one of the most powerful moments of the album. “The Apparel” is what the score of a film noir would have sounded like, if in the middle of the film all the characters abandoned their script and started revolving around a surrealistic, psychedelic non-plot. A gloomy, atmospheric, slow-moving track with the threat of murder and madness in the air, haunted by a slithering, aching saxophone dragging its feet through the empty streets of this foggy, black-and-white town of the 40s.
These jazz elements are displayed much more confidently in “The Pilgrim” which I would characterize as an essentially jazz track with some faint ambient influences, mainly due to the oneiric synth sequences in the background. Definitely lighter, more improvisational and abstract than “The Apparel”, the main role is held here by the tenor saxophone. “The Weavers” is a short, yet interesting track comprised of rhythmically clapping hands, various layers of industrialized drones and noisy distortions, following a course of escalation and de-climax. The final track, “The Moonlit Passage” is a sonata of shoegaze/ ethereal ambient that ends the recording in a romantic, heartfelt note. Definitely one of the most beautiful instances to be experienced here, it makes one wish it lasted a bit longer.
“A Fabric Of Beliefs” invites a thought-provoking interaction between listener and artist, one that involves not only the musical aspect of the release but also its ideological and inspirational basis. It makes it necessary for the listener to identify the patterns and place them in the overall scheme of the recording. A process that sounds painstaking, but is actually made easy and entertaining by the simple fact that Maxime Vavasseur is an incredibly talented musician – both from a technical and artistic aspect. While there is certainly enough occasion for it, the analysis comes second – the first and foremost is the enjoyment of the excellent music in this album. I’m certainly intrigued and curious about his previous work, therefore inclined to procure myself a copy of “Sorcery/Geography”. After a few listens of “A Fabric Of Beliefs” you are most likely to do the same.