Album Cover
Cheval De Frise
Fresques Sur Les Parois Secretes du Crane
February 2004


The line I get pitched is that Cheval de Frise are the acoustic Hella, or the French Hella, or the French, acoustic Hella. They are both bizarre drum-and-guitar duos, who write bizarre little numbers that get on your nerves for being smarter than you, this is true, but their styles are entirely different: while Hella squeeze all their complexity generally into a fairly straightforward 4/4 meter and fashion it into, for all intents and purposes, a rock and roll song, Cheval de Frise put most of their complexity into rhythm and meter, making the whole thing entirely more confusing and less immediately recognizable as a linear song. They are both more French and acoustic, though, so they got that part right.

The most applicable description of the album I can muster is to compare it to frescoes on the secret walls of a cranium-- by a staggering coincidence, that is exactly the album's title! Only, you know, in English. Still, it applies-- the songs sound less like songs than they do like something noisy "painted on fresh, moist plaster with pigments dissolved in water" (Yahoo! Dictionary). Rarely are there musical phrases, repeated choruses or anything so agonizingly song-like present; instead, everything seems to be flowing off the tops of the musicians' heads. No wonder we hate the French, those snide smarty-pantses.

"Lucarne des Combles" opens the album ridiculously, the first twenty seconds or so sounding like the kinds of things people with neither shame nor guitar experience do really loudly at Guitar Center, except a whole lot more interesting. The next segment of the song is quieter, a suspenseful buildup to nothing in particular, and if you're through this, you're on track to make it through the whole album. Shortly thereafter, the song quietly shifts into the first thing particularly resembling a melody, and dang if it isn't a gorgeous one, in some kind of perversely syncopated 10/8-- the guitarist, Thomas Bonvalet, balancing several harmonious melodies atop one another before tossing them recklessly into a mish-mash of loud (here, I imagine, as he plays, an angry grey cloud rises around him like when cartoon characters fistfight-- arms and legs jut out and flap around, while asterisks and pound signs hover above him).

The percussion work, too, provided by Vincent Beysselance, is pretty extraordinary, perhaps strengthening someone's resolve to make the Hella comparison in likening him to Zach Hill. Somehow, he keeps these wondrous melodies anchored to some alien species of rhythm, and is as much the lead instrument as the guitar in some songs, the two blending together to create a homogenous blur of confusing bliss.

The title track is one of the album's highlights, a quietly suspenseful look into the aforementioned secret cranial walls; slowly and horrifyingly, something large and bright is approaching in a dissonant, hissing fashion, while, in the background, the paintings play out regardless, made up of bizarre, quiet little brushstrokes. And it's all in a cranium, to boot! "Phosphorescence de l'Arbre Mort" (to wit, The Phosphorescence of the Dead Tree) is the most dissonant thing on the album, but is mind-bogglingly beautiful nevertheless, and also incorporates what may be frantic, staticky vocals, or possibly some kind of synthesizer mirage. As the album is finally being firmly escorted outside, "Chiendent" puts up a good fight, unapologetically using its outdoor voice and causing a fantastic ruckus, until the door slams behind it.

Naturally, any album so steadfastly devoted to being confusing will sometimes simply be far too much work, but Fresques is more than worth it; when the listener is in the right frame of mind, which, in this case, is not too difficult a one to be in, the album can make him or her unreasonably happy. And the song titles are just great. "Two Ductile Tablecloths"? Oh, France.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. Lucarne des Combles
  2. Bora Lustral
  3. Le Puits
  4. Deux Nappes Ductiles
  5. Songe de Perte de Dents
  6. Fresques Sur Les Parois Secretes du Crane
  7. L'Agonie Dans le Jardin
  8. Phosphorescence de l'Arbre Mort
  9. IX
  10. Chiendent