Chef Menteur Forgetting Audiversity Review
by Michael Ardaiolo,
“touts les rêves perdus et réalisés
à la nouvelle orléans”
On the lower right-hand corner inside the sparse one-fold booklet of Chef Menteur’s sophomore full-length, The Answer’s in Forgetting, this short phrase floats alone. Roughly translated (roughly because sadly I have no experience with French and am stuck trusting an assortment of free online translators): “all the lost and realized dreams in New Orleans”. Drifting in a murky painted setting where the land is made up of colored-over map pieces, the water is teal and light blue overrun by swabs of olive green and muddy brown, and in the sky looms an out-going black cloud, the context of the quote is obvious. It must be hard to reflect on anything else in the recovering southern American city, yet the remaining artists in residence have enough inspiration, despite it being more of the negative stimulus, to last for decades to come.
There are growths protruding from the painted body of water though, coral or pedicle-like structures perhaps symbolizing the life yearning to propagate once again from just beneath the surface. Seeds drift around the stalks, and dandelion clocks float through the air just above them. In the distance, varying lengths of connected stem and seed are congregating in a city-like structure. It is a dimly hued painting scattered with symbols of regrowth, an analogy obvious to the city of New Orleans and a worthy one for the music of the Crescent City-based Chef Menteur.
The overall tone of The Answer’s in Forgetting doesn’t stray too far from the caliginous setting of the artwork. The studio-barricaded three-piece – only two of which remain from the band’s 2005 debut, We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire – make good use of warmly resonating feedback and duskish synthesizers as background color to each track. With that setting in place, they purvey a Constellation-friendly brand of stadium-sized post-rock with occasional excursions into other sub-styles: the Southwestern-teased instrumental rock of Friends of Dean Martinez, the apocalyptic emotion of Sigur Ros, the sprawling alternative metal of godheadSilo (of which newest member, multi-instrumentalist Dan Haugh, stems from) and the exotic explorations of Cul de Sac.
This more rock-oriented turn by the band may discourage fans of their initial release, which was dubbed more in the electronica direction. More often than not with this second attempt, the trio – joined briefly by banjo and sitar player Brian Abbott – ditch the curious oscillating synth swirls and snipped drum machine rhythms for the hugely pummeling drums and atmospherically sweeping guitar melodies that have pretty much lined every album classified as post-rock since Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Godspeed! took super-indie status at the turn of the millennium. It may not be the smartest or most intriguing move for a band looking to develop their sound in new directions to a wider audience.
That being said, The Answer’s in Forgetting does not completely let down; the highlights just come from the more unsuspecting sections of the record. The menacing chirp of tapped analog synthesizers creeping in the background of the impending, feedback-drenched “Parasitic Oscillation” surely reflects the ominous nighttime environment of post-hurricane New Orleans. And it leads into a rather warm “Tonalli”, a patiently shuffling, effect-heavy number reminiscent of the overlooked Lateduster. Where songs like “1491” and “Goodbye Callisto” rumble on past the seven-minute mark, never really introducing a particularly individual element, a track like “OT III” clocks in at barely two-and-a-half minutes but its intriguing interaction between a twangy banjo and a buzzing sitar with swelling synthesizer tones anchoring makes for a much more fulfilling listen.
Despite a few woes in their stylistic progression, the important aspect here is that Chef Menteur (and any other New Orleans-based artists for that matter) is back to recording material in the confines of and inspired by their hometown. Like their immediate surroundings, The Answer’s in Forgetting is the product of being in a state of regrowth. Perhaps before pushing forward, one needs to return to what one knows best. Collect your thoughts, remember your roots, learn from your mistakes, and then, as the album’s title seems to imply, you forget the immediate past and move on. Maybe this is just their recollection, their stem’s regrowth before they can once again flower. I’ll be interested to hear the band in blossom.