The softest of French rock
Raoul Vignal was a sensational discovery for me last year with his superb album The Silver Veil. Returning right at the end of 2018 with his new album ‘Oak Leaf’, this see’s Raoul expand his guitar work to include more of a band effort whilst maintaining his hushed and calm tone.
‘Pepa’s Eyes’ immediately reassures you that whilst there’s more going on, the vibe is still the same. The warmth of the acoustic guitar, soft bass, brushed light percussion – they all come together melodically without really pushing a cheesy riff. They point towards a feeling and that is crowned off with the whispery soft low dulcet tones of Vignal. His voice never sounds stretched or pulled as he is so quiet and delicate and on ‘No Faith’ where tuned percussion, shakers and droning guitars prance away – he just quietly skips underneath it all with quiet confidence. It’s mild bossa nova roots shine through with its ending before ‘The Dream’ slinks in with its glassy tones and clever warm acoustics. This track shows off Raoul Vignal’s ability to make quite complex rhythms and melodies feel effortless and serene
The acoustic folk vibe of the album never strays from its European roots. ‘Blue Raven’ has some luscious fingerpicking of the guitar that gives an ancient barn feel. The track feels like its a floating glissando – gently shimmering in the corner. It lets the sadness of ‘I Might’ unfold with its decaying chords and hushed brass arrangement. ‘I Have Sinned’ moves into plugged folk-rock territory with its dark riffs that are underscored with organs and an off-kilter waltzing time signature. It really reminds me of the music Peter Ulrich makes and that can only be a good thing.
Raoul moves into acoustic psychedelia for the next two tracks. ‘The Waves part 1’ and ‘part 2’ are movements rather than tracks. They seep in and out like water but instead of fluid its guitars and drum rolls that come gushing in. They both have a very French sinister beauty of them, particularly part 2 which is an instrumental jazz folk piece – but part 1 is superb. It’s this creepy tone that returns after the calming blues track ‘Mirror’. The closing song ‘The Valve’ plays with a couple of chords that evoke witchery and Raoul’s soft drone voice suddenly goes from pillowy to a bit devilish just by its context. It’s a cracking finale and rounds off the album in a completely different mood.
Initially, I get worried when an artist does two albums in two years but Raoul Vignal bucks the trend and has created another gorgeous album. In an age of music where massive crunches and no space between noises seems to be the preferred route, this softly softest approach feels so fresh and it runs the gambit of relaxing and calming through to maddening. ‘Oak Leaf’ establishes Raoul Vignal is a master of his craft and whilst not quite as immediate at his debut last year, is just as good once you give it space.
Recommended track: The Dream
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