Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber (review)

The story of how Melody Prochet went from the classically-trained multi-instrumentalist in twee French pop outfit My Bee’s Garden to a hippy-trippy psychedelic solo artist is one which has all the makings of a classic rock tale. Shackled and restrained by her classic training and unfulfilled by the lightness of her band, Prochet went in search of an aesthetic which would drag her from her comfort zone and release her from her gilded cage of comfy chanson. This quest led her to a meeting-of-minds with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker backstage at the Aussie psych-rockers’ Paris show in 2010. Drawn to the echoey-depths of Parker’s heavily-layered sonic landscapes, Prochet had found exactly what she had been looking for – the key to both her physical and musical escape.  While her decision to leave My Bees Garden would not be instantaneous, she eventually broke free, in many different ways. “I tend to write songs with pretty chords and arpeggios, and I was kind of boring myself,” she recalls in a recent interview. “So I asked Kevin to destroy everything.”

The result is Melody’s Echo Chamber, Prochet’s debut solo album, and it is – for the most part – a triumph of contradictory beauty. Soft yet brittle, light but with an unnerving darkness at the edges like a gathering storm on the horizon of a sun-kissed meadow, this is an album on which a young woman appears to be exploring the sounds in her head and hearing them perfectly replicated in the outside world for the first time. “This record was my dream sound,” Prochet has said. “I’ve tried for years to get it but finally I found the right hands to sculpt it.”

There’s no getting away from the fact that Kevin Parker’s fingerprints are all over the production of this album but to credit the Tame Impala man entirely would be doing a massive disservice to Melody Prochet. The trademark scuzzy, fuzzy guitars, the “Tomorrow Never Knows” drums and spaced-out, soaring synths leave you in no doubt who is in the control booth and for the most part, this is a good thing. The orchestration is as lush and layered as you would expect; album opener “I Follow You” is an uplifting yet edgy pop song, perfectly balancing Prochet’s sugary vocal with the heavily-delayed guitars, while “Crystallized”, another potentially airy slice of 1960s revivalism, suddenly transcends to an altogether more sublime level due to the far-out Krautrock finale that shakes the song from its summer reverie.  “Endless Shore” pushes the standard even higher with its George Harrison-influenced eastern vibe, piercing keys and effects-heavy, reverbed riffs.

But all this wonderful production would mean nothing if it was not supporting Prochet’s considerable talent for addictive hooks, dreamy harmonies and arpeggios which are delivered like showers of diamonds.

The production, however, is partly responsible for the album’s few but obvious shortfalls. Prochet has one of those classically girly French pop voices which needs to be treated with care and as such, Parker records her in much the same way as he lays his own delicate vocals down on Tame Impala records – as an instrument rather than a dominating factor. The result is that, while he manages to lift his own voice above the psychedelic turmoil of the music, Prochet tends to get snowed under in the sonic avalanches. This makes it extremely hard to understand what she’s singing about which raises questions about the lyrical content – only because one can’t clearly hear the words. The darkness and grittiness of some songs are somewhat ill-pitched and would have been more effective had the music explored the edginess in Prochet’s voice and personality rather than expecting her to meet the challenge set by the ominous orchestration.

Despite this, and the fact that the high quality of the record gradually tails off throughout its second half, Melody’s Echo Chamber is an impressive, immersive debut featuring enough beautifully constructed and thrilling music to make one forgive the few weaknesses which occur as it reaches its conclusion. For a first attempt at soaring to the outer limits of her vision, Melody Prochet has taken an intriguing maiden voyage.

Melody’s Echo Chamber opens with the wonderful “I Follow You” with its delicious hook and Prochet’s luminous vocals skipping over waves of feedback and woolly guitars. Albums which open on such a high note are often doomed to slide towards mediocrity – or worse – and while the album does gradually lose its momentum and vision in the final third, the opening track is not the tipping point.  “Crystallised” again takes Prochet’s feathery vocals and lifts it up on a crunchy base of reverb-heavy psych-rock.

Singing in English on record for the first time, Prochet retains her alluring Francophone tones which are perfect for the gorgeous, swaying Parisian pop of “You Won’t Be Missing That Part Of Me” which taps into Serge Gainsbourg’s smoky seduction but rolls sexily over rumbling motorik beats like a playful lover on pristine hotel sheets.

“Some Time Alone, Alone” opens with the signature Tame Impala choppy guitar intro and cascading bass scales favoured by Tame and Pond bassist Nick Allbrook but Prochet soon muscles in to reclaim the song as her own, soaring above it all with a wonderful melody which is one of the album’s best vocal moments.

“Endless Shore” stretches out like a walk along a shimmering beach with wispy waves of electronica blowing in and Prochet’s voice rising and diving like birds over the water. A chiming, vaguely Kraftwerk-inspired keyboard refrain plinks and plonks from time to time to give it a strange, other-worldly atmosphere.  It’s both soothing and mildly disconcerting at the same time.

She reverts to her native tongue on “Bisou Magique” (Magic Kiss) which comes across like Vanessa Paradis fronting Broken Bells. It’s the perfect music for an afternoon’s aimless wander through Left Bank avenues with its lazy synth lines and a pace which barely gets above pedestrian. It’s a shame though that the potentially interesting combination of styles is left to chug along lethargically with very little direction when so many possibilities are just around the corner.

The ghostly “Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?” is the first real slide down the quality scale. Beginning with fairground keyboards, it morphs into an agitated jazz shuffle which is knocked off its stride from time to time by discordant drums. Prochet’s vocal sounds as though it was recorded for a different song, which hints at a better alternative than the track it was pasted over.

Prochet proves on a number of tracks that she can rival her producer in the offbeat stakes. “Mount Hopeless” is gloriously gloomy and is reminiscent of the mid- to late-80’s 4AD roster, with aspects of Lush at their most pseudo-Goth while “Is That What You Said” sounds like a bunch of drunken guitars getting into a fight on a horror movie carousel. The experimental, backwards orchestration has something of the Stone Roses’ penchant for flipping their own songs over and calling it something new. While it’s a courageous move, it’s somewhat of a jarring anomaly.

“Snowcapped Andes Crash” – a song about post-plane disaster cannibalism, would you believe – trips daintily along on airwaves of plinking electronica before hitting a massive storm of turbulence halfway through and crashing to earth in a cacophonic maelstrom of twisted guitars, exploding drums and screeching loops before Prochet’s voice – like the ghosts of the victims – begins to rise to the heavens again.

Finally, “Be Proud of Your Kids” returns the record to near sanity with Beatles-esque strings, reminiscent of “Rain” or “Taxman”, twanging behind children’s voices and Prochet’s whispery and discordant sighing. It doesn’t stray too far from bizarre but has some nice musical elements in it. The overwhelming feeling that a five-year old got hold of the recording equipment and a microphone at some point, however, cannot be shaken. It’s brave and a concerted move away from the formula of the more catchy numbers but it smacks of an oddity for oddity’s sake.

The high points on Melody’s Echo Chamber are high indeed and one hopes that on her next outing she will have a full album’s worth of ideas because when she hits the mark, it makes for a joyous listening experience and the more she does this, the happier this writer will be. The album’s final third suggests that there wasn’t quite enough material or focus for a full record of quality (or maybe both singer and producer ran out of steam towards the end). One would also hope that Melody Prochet discovers how to fully exploit the interestingly macabre aspects of her music and explores her dark side a little more on the next record. This admirable debut has a good mix of poppy melodies and thematic darkness but a better understanding of the dark foreboding behind the luminosity would see Prochet scale even greater heights. All-in-all, she’s progressing nicely along the right track.

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