Click to hear: “The New West“
I feel like a geologist, or a curious boy poking around a shallow, untouched cave who has stumbled upon an impossible gem. Late Night Clouds Project, the creative vehicle of Portland’s Eric St. Pierre, has released a second album, A Safe Place to Play, and it is gorgeous. Safe Place is a brief and focused collection of dreamy, down-tempo songs recorded in Glasgow in 2007. St. Pierre conjures not just the sound, but also the feeling of nostalgic contemplation with a palette of noisy, galactic tones and ideas.
This record shows black and white, acrid and sweet, sadistic and tender. It rolls on quickly and surely, as life does, beginning with the dreamy introduction of “Seagrass,” then delivering the gentle punch of “The New West.” With a shuffling beat, jangling guitars and some interlaced phased synth, “The New West” is both one of the record’s starkest moments and its most accessible track.
Each composition is the length of a pop song. There are no choruses, verses, bridges or solos here, just sincere movements of ambience and wonder. As someone who doesn’t listen to much electronic music beyond the occasional Boards of Canada or Sigur Rós song, I’m struck by the immediacy of each track.
St. Pierre doesn’t thrust anything at the listener. Each sound is introduced slowly and carefully, and has moved on before you know it. The restraint exercised on Safe Place is commendable — before anything gets overly repetitious, it winds down and, more often than not, kisses you goodnight. The songs feel late-night, cloudy. At its kinder spots, Safe Place is the sound of a bed floating down an open road under moonlight, its blankets fluttering behind.
On the other end of the spectrum are numbers like “The Giffnock Hum” and “Mouse in a Biscuit Tin,” chugging noise crescendos that resolve into simple, melodic afterglows. The latter suggests a nightmarish, unstoppable train passing by. You can almost catch glimpses of passengers in the cars as, one by one, they disappear down a black tunnel faster than they came. It’s exhausting by the time it breaks.
The last two tracks, “Waiting for an Asteroid” and “Akward,” stream together quite nicely, and would make a good score for a weird sci-fi film. (In fact, film score work is one of St. Pierre’s main reasons for creating LNCP). They hum along aimlessly, like a forgotten spaceman adrift in the void.
Voice samples pop up throughout to provide the music with a crucial human element: children playing, scientific jargon, a nervous man retelling an altercation on the street…
Safe Place gets better with repeated listens. The music is consistent, honest and compelling — what more one could ask for? When it’s over, you pause, look around, and wonder where everything went.
— Tyler Jackson
Eric St. Pierre performs as half of the electronica duo The Secret Weekend on Sat., Feb. 7, at Empire Dine and Dance, 625 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $5 (21+). 879-8988. portlandempire.com.