For better or worse, Lïan is the kind of album which takes just one track to illuminate the entirety of what it has to offer. The album’s collection of “dark neobaroque” compositions is the latest offering from Laure Le Prunenec, who lent her vocals to Blood Music’s Öxxö Xööx and Corpo-Mente before securing her own spot on the label under the name Rïcïnn. And when it comes to investing in Lïan, it will behoove of listeners to use opening track “Uma” as a barometer for their potential enjoyment of the following nine songs. For the aspects of “Uma” that succeed – and the many more that don’t – set the tone for Lïan and outline exactly what ails the album as whole.
On a positive note, “Uma” highlights Lïan‘s apt execution of the “bookend.” The strongest moments on the album arrive as building and receding swells of baroque instrumentation that cushion the central compositions of several tracks. This is the case on “Uma,” where yearning strings pierce through a hanging ambient haze as the album begins on a promising note. Both “Little Bird” and “Lumna” begin on similar terms, with the addition of ethereal choral vocals that might fit well on a Grouper or Sigur Rós record. “Lumna” is particularly gorgeous in its instrumentation, with twinkling bells and subtle, sliding guitar melodies accenting a simple but beautiful introduction to what one would presume to be an equally gorgeous compositional development.
Yet, while these moments are mimicked in most tracks’ pleasant outros, these exits are almost always framed as dishonorable retreats because of the preceding bulk of each song. Because in between the bookends of almost every track is a slew of loose, frayed papers bursting out of musty book covers. Returning to “Uma” for a moment aids in explaining why, and it’s unfortunately due to Le Prunenec’s vocals. Attempting an eclectic, baroque-era style, her performances just barely land at the threshold of hitting each note at a technical level. Almost every instance of her singing gives off the impression she’s operating outside of her range, leaving no room to add any personal flavor or intrigue. Her high notes sound like monotone, vaguely musical yelling, while she seems to have no control of her voice while singing in her deeper registry (some of these moments are ostensibly shared by backing vocalist Laurent Lunoir of Öxxö Xööx, but since none of these vocals are performed well, it’s unimportant to decipher who is singing when). And though she sings perfectly well in her soft, subdued range on the aforementioned ambient sections, each song’s quality plummets once she ventures out of her comfort zone.
But Le Prunenec doesn’t have a particularly inviting backdrop to work with anyway, as none of the tracks on Lïan add up to coherent musical statements. The instrumentation within each track clashes constantly, suffocating momentum at every turn to create an album that feels utterly stagnant. As “Uma” takes off from its ethereal beginning, it gives way to an incredibly bland guitar riff, sounding like a pre-loaded clip on the producer’s DAW. But an abundance of these chunky, boring riffs would be welcome if it meant the following harpsichord were removed from “Uma” and the album entirely. Though it fits within the baroque style, not a single instance of harpsichord on the album fits with the surrounding composition, and its trill, plunking notes always overshadow any passable playing that may actually be occurring. The instrument is at its worse on “Little Bird” and “Lumna,” the two strongest tracks on the album which suffer most from the instrument’s existence within them. Whomever performed and/or tinkered with the harpsichord on these tracks should be relieved of their duties, as it sounds like the most tinny harpsichord in existence was fed through an 8-bit filter composed with the sounds of the Eighties’ worst video games.
By the time “Laid to Earth” plods along until Lïan finally concludes, it becomes clear just how unclear the whole listening process was. Each track is held up on shaky ground, with shoddy vocals and instrumentation exhibiting a lack of cohesion and inability to launch a song from a satisfactory introduction. Perhaps Le Prunenec might find success if she pursued the ambient side of her sound and composed a truly beautiful album. But as it stands, every pleasant instance on Lïan is outshadowed by a swath of mediocrity and incompetence.