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A flame my love, a frequency (Thrill Jockey)

remember when I first heard the opening strums of Cecile Schott’s
lo-fi debut, Everyone Alive Wants Answers (Leaf, 2003). It all felt
precarious and fragile, like at any point it might just unravel, and
yet it worked. Her latest, the seventh in her repertoire and second
for Chicago’s Thrill Jockey, finds her in a very different place,
almost entirely electronic in sound and now regularly incorporating
her own breathy vocals, but it still exudes that delicateness in new
ways. As with many of her albums, A flame my love is fairly concise,
8 tracks adding up to about 43 minutes. Its pacing works
exceptionally, starting with the electronic music box sprinkles of
“November” before segueing into the album’s longest and best
track, “Separating.” Her hushed voice floats like thin cirrus
clouds over its galloping arpeggios while she fiddles with the gate,
lending it a living human touch. That thinness is pervasive on the
album, opting for little to no low-end at all in most arrangements. That is ultimately what makes it such a success for me, feeling just
as stark and intimate as her earliest releases while being altogether
different in approach and actual sounds. That the album was made as a
response to the 2015 terror attack in Paris casts a different sort of
light on the percolating repetition of “Another world,” one of a
handful of instrumentals on the album. Its cascading patterns take on
the feeling of an aftershock, a sustained ripple effect. That
fragility is redeemed later in “One warm spark,” another
twinkling instrumental of layered arpeggios and delay, with a hint of
optimism as its title suggests.

A flame my love, a frequency by Colleen

My other favorite is “Winter dawn,”
centered around an insistent fluttering synth pattern and Schott’s
delayed and filtered vocal. Paired with  “Summer Night (Bat song),”
it feels like the emotional core of the album. In text form, some of
her lyrics lose some of their mystique: “Be like the bat that
nearly flew into my room / Nowhere to stop, nowhere to stop / turn
around and swoop swoop swoop swoop swoop.” And yet in the music it
resonates much in the same haunting way that some of Bat For Lashes’
or even Nico’s starker moments do. In the same spirit, the title
track brings the album to an end, with Schott’s dreamy voice leading
the way: “A flame my love, a frequency / So stillness now can reign
again / Reign reign reign / I will call you when the sun has reached
the final hour.” Her keyboards drone as a satisfying denouement,
wrapping up her strangely intimate, sad but optimistic reflections.
Disarming in its simplicity and intimacy, it’s one of Colleen’s
finest efforts to date and a highlight of 2017.

Buy it: Bandcamp