LE HAVRE is the Montreal-based project of guitarist Charles-David Dubé and drummer Oli Bernatchez. The group has released two EPs since vidéo ep (which itself was put out in January of this year), but vidéo stands unique among their discography due to its lack of vocals; instead, jazz and impressionistic harmonies meld with hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, and rock influences. The EP also highlights the compositional role drums can play in shaping a song, Bernatchez's playing suggesting the influence of instrumental electronic styles associated with drummers JoJo Mayer (from his band Nerve), Louis Cole (with KNOWER), and drummer Mark Guiliana (from Beat Music).
Immediately, there is an exciting push and pull between metallic and organic sounds. Opener “track 1” is a perfect example of this conversation between industry and nature — it juxtaposes moments of flagrant acoustic guitar with the hammer-like plink of a cymbal bell resting on a snare. The refrain is propelled by an unrelenting single-stroke roll, mainly voiced between two snare drums (calling to mind the drumming of Chris Dave, who prefers kits with multiple snare drums and no toms). This buildup of energy is relieved by an emotive waltz-time movement that hearkens to the countryside, with its waterfalls of pitch-shifted chords. Before long, however, the opening theme returns, and the accompanying, implied visual scene transitions to that of a factory, mechanical, metallic, and motoric qualities once again at the forefront.
The verse of “track3 (novémbre)” is a melodic highlight, “track4 (decémbre)” boasts an impressive shapeshifting groove, and “track5 (janvier)” is particularly active on both rhythmic and harmonic fronts, incorporating a snake-like vintage piano sample that heightens the sense that the song is somehow chasing itself. Despite these distinctive qualities, most of the tracks are fairly short (a majority clock in at between two and three minutes), each one blending easily into the next; the aforementioned moments are just a few in a chain-linked continuum of many, difficult to extract intact from this multi-movement expression. The EP is symphony, a play, a season (winter), a five-course meal. But what is its glue, the overarching sonic character that keeps it together?
The sound is like the cleanest fracture of a dead autumn leaf. The guitars possess a warm crackle, the leaf’s brown, paper body. Tape echo and tremolo effects send tiny fragments of it into the winds of tempo and meter. The vein-like drums provide a structure from which each note deviates and fades, or each chord touches and releases, highlighting the temporality in the harmony and the omnipresence of the rhythm.
The cover itself shows a grainy humanoid figure with an explosive psyche consisting of spheres, cubes, and triangles in various arrangements, an image echoing the notion that the aesthetic character of the music is a consequence of both organic and mathematical qualities. Just as the humanoid in the image is seen to be a complex structure of little picture, the music itself increases with analysis not only in complexity but in beauty as well. Closer listens reveal underlying patterns – identifying the inverted chords, for example, illuminates the harmonic sequence, and counting through “track5 (decémbre)” shows just how good an eleven-beat cycle built off the triplet can feel. And that’s what’s important: the way in which it all comes across. There is an elegant quantum mechanics at play in this music. Every subtle detail and movement contributes to a remarkable sound-space. It’s more than a sonic tapestry, the product of some interwoven linearities à la Steve Reich. It is multi-dimensional, the result of the simultaneous dynamism of musical intricacies.
Listen to this EP and more from Le Havre at their Bandcamp page.