HØRD’s trinity of albums for Avant! Records tell an interesting story about the one-man French darkwave project helmed by Sebastien Carl. Where 2018’s Parallels had a sense of confinement born from rigid programming, and 2020’s Bodies explored increasingly larger and more spacious synth canvasses, new LP Sciences focuses on an area between the two poles; the rhythms of each song maintain a feeling of solidity and rigor, while melodies are conveyed through reverb soaked synth sequences.
The results of this approach can be both striking and frustrating by turns. Sciences aims to be a big record sonically, the ever-widening nature of its compositions anchored by its drums. A song like opener “Arrows” exemplifies the best of this approach, with Carl’s lilting, echoing voice gradually enveloped in cloudy pads and competing kosmische synthlines that keep growing in intensity and emotion above its solid kicks. “Turn” has its drums mixed to punch hard through its gauzy atmospherics, giving the listener something solid to hold onto even as more layers of sound descend slowly over the proceedings.
Conversely, there are moments where that tension is awkward, or works at cross-purposes. “Challenger One” slowly drowns its simple arrangement of kicks and snares with swathes of hazy sound, with neither element feeling like it serves the other. “Ice” has a tightly realized musical motif in its bouncing lead and filtered textures, but feels weighed down by excess, its ever ballooning size dampening its initial impact and appeal. Carl’s yen for grandeur in his production is clear, and his execution can be on point – “London” nails that feeling of gradual, thrumming expansion – but one does wonder if some of these songs might be better served by being reigned in a little, and allowing their component parts to shine through without the excess of effects-driven studio filigree.
It’s in listening to late album cut “London” that Sciences comes into focus: on first listen it seems positively minimal in comparison to what preceded it, its lushness and cloudy melancholy becoming clearer in isolation than in context of the record. Recalibrating and giving your ears some time to recover from the album’s grandiosity does wonders for its overall listenability, its sound and character best taken in small to medium doses lest its richness overwhelm its other charms.