Published Sep 28, 2016To North Americans who know him only as the mastermind behind the Amélie score, it might come as a surprise that French
songwriter Yann Tiersen's new album, EUSA, is the first minimal piano album of his storied career. That's right: the man behind "Comptine d'un autre été : L'après-midi" — maybe the prettiest piano composition of all-time — has never made a piano album. That's a shame, because EUSA is a consistently gorgeous work that extrapolates nicely on his past handful of piano-based compositions.
It almost didn't exist. EUSA, named after Tiersen's Breton island homeland (Ushant in English), was originally conceived as ten pieces inspired by and named after places on the island, to be released only as sheet music. It was only after Tiersen played the work live at a series of French shows, augmenting it with improvised musical "pathways" between songs, that he realized he wanted to release it as an album.
EUSA begins with the first of that series of loose piano interludes, "Hent I," which builds tension perfectly around just two chords before resolving with "Pern." The early highlight rises and falls beautifully, feeling somehow sprightly and melancholy at the same time, while "Porz Goret," a more straightforward ballad, evokes "Comptine" in its sweet, sad elegance. Elsewhere, songs like "Penn ar Roc'h," "Yuzin" and "Roc'h ar Vugale" provide a perfect soundtrack for bright mornings or rainy afternoons.
If there's a fault to be found, it's that the "Hent" series pushes the album a little long and distracts slightly from the ten locale-inspired compositions. Six-and-a-half-minute closer "Hent VIII" is particularly unnecessary, especially when "Enez Nein" feels like such a perfect way to close the album. Taken as a whole, though, EUSA is luminous, a grand gesture made up of the kind of small, gorgeous moments that will remind listeners of home — wherever that may be. (Mute)