Thomas Bel

Album Title: 
Aux Ombres - Mon Corps - En Manifeste
Release Date: 
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Review Type: 

I am in touch with different labels from all over our beautiful planet, and I like a lot of them. But one of my most appreciated ones must be Distant Voices from France. It has to do with three things: 1. the great crew behind this label, 2. the sonic side, i.e. the fine recordings this label did release until now (it’s a personal opinion, of course, but I do appreciate about all of the things offered to the audience by this French team), and 3. the personal approach of each single release. With this, I am referring to the fact that each single compact disc or tape has been created handmade, always in a very limited edition. The very same goes for this release; I’ll come back to it immediately.

Thomas Bel is the founder and owner of Distant Voices. But he’s known as musician as well, be it under a different moniker: Fille De Misère, master brain behind the grim, depressing and atmospheric Black Metal outfit Misery (in case of interest: I did write several reviews on this act), and quite recently he also formed another outfit, Jzovce. Thomas records and plays under his own name as well, and that’s what this review will deal with.

Aux Ombres, Mon Corps, En Manifeste is another creation under Thomas Bel’s own name. There are 100 handmade copies, which include a sober - at first sight - four-page booklet with lyrics in English, an A7-format postcard (on recycled material), a quote card, and an A5-sized manifest. It comes in a handmade sleeve with a hand-stamped silver disc. Everything was written, composed and executed by Thomas (with exception of some samples from other sources) in between Summer 2016 and early 2019 in the city of Toulouse (South of France). He also took care of mix and mastering, as well as the layout and artwork (in partnership with Distant Voices-accomplice Anna M, evidently).

I did describe the former releases as a doomy form of Sad Folk; Sad Folk is also the terminology used by Thomas himself to describe the Music of this outfit. Well, when it comes to Aux Ombres, Mon Corps, En Manifeste (which means: ‘in the shades, my body, in manifesto’), it goes that very same way. The bio labels it as ‘Ambient / Experimental / Sad Folk’, and the first track, for example (which is called Et En Miroir, Le Secret Des Larmes Versées, meaning something like ‘and in the mirror, the secret of the tears shed), indeed gathers those elements. Starting off with an extremely melancholic and sad piano melody, soon joined by an acoustic guitar melody, the relationship of Sad Folk and Ambient is a fact. When the drums and more strings, plus floating synth lines, join, a mostly deep emotion of tristesse reveals the integer character of this one-man band. Then vocals are added, subtly modest, warm yet broken, somehow melancholic too. The lyrics are in French, and for some strange reason, it works in a convincing manner.

Partition Pour Une Perdition (‘partition for a perdition’, but I guess you already came that far) adds that ‘Experimental’ description. The different and usual samples from the Lithuanian movie Koridorius (by Sharunas Bartas) (a strange motion picture, recommended to open-minded cinephiles) in combination with dissonant drum patterns and jazzy percussion, eerie keyboard lines, droning basses and, eventually, also weird, disharmonic piano, chimes and church bells (also taken from that movie), make this track a strange, yet somehow also intriguing, pièce d’art.

Thème Ancienne (‘ancient theme’) is a short piece, performed on grand piano, and including some samples (rain?) and floating spheres (created by viola or synth?). It is very moody and integer, yet quite ‘embracing faith’ alike too.

Next comes Et Sur Ses Yeux, Mes Lèvres Blessées (‘and on their eyes, my wounded lips’) (with its length of 7+ minutes, the longest piece on this album), also mingling eccentric and jazzy percussion madness, dreamlike drones, discordant sounds and additional samples, doomed bass lines, into one bizarre scene, one huge yet paradoxical sonic experience.

Then Lendemains Tristesse (‘tomorrow’s sadness’) brings back that Folk vibe, being based around simple yet desolate acoustic guitars and soft chants of melancholy and despair. And so the whole album sort of continues: balancing in between woebegone and mournful passages, aspiring and adventurous ambiences, unpretentious acoustic fragments, intimate and down-earthed melodies, progressed experimentation and doomy atmospheres. The voices, although quite limited (a minority of songs have them), with that French tongue, are unique and remarkable, and the use of samples, noises and field recordings (amongst which fragments taken from movies like higher mentioned Koridorius, or Tarkovski’s Nostalghia) give this whole album a quite distinctive, peculiar approach. Besides, the down-tuned bass lines, additional instrumentation (strings and percussions, chimes and organ / keyboards), and varied yet coherent collection of (negative) moods are unusual yet unique. All this makes Aux Ombres, Mon Corps, En Manifeste, a particular and willful, yet attractive listening experience for sure.

May the night be your love…