Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Bon Voyage, the new album from French singer Melody’s Echo Chamber.
Melody Prochet gained a following in the shadow of Tame Impala, an early career affiliation that proved both a platform and crutch for the French songwriter. After watching Kevin Parker’s prodigious psych-rock project perform in Paris, and then subsequently touring alongside them with her then-band My Bee’s Garden, Prochet asked Parker to produce her upcoming solo album. The resulting debut studio LP from Melody’s Echo Chamber was a warmly received collection of textural dream pop, very much of a piece with Tame Impala’s heralded breakthrough Lonerism, but also containing unique strains of California desert rock and Scottish ethereal wave.
The collaboration proved a seamless fit for Prochet, who described the record as her “dream sound.” But while resulting in an elegant album of boldly experimental psychedelic garage pop, Prochet’s distinct songwriting voice easily felt lost in Parker’s swirling production, with his drumming and synth work unmistakable to the point of eclipsing the greater nuance operating under each track.
It’s been five years since Melody’s Echo Chamber’s release, and in that time Tame Impala rapidly became one of the biggest “rock” bands running, largely by shapeshifting that trademark sound into a thicker, post-EDM bog. Prochet’s sophomore album was originally conceived with Parker’s support, but lagged as incomplete for two years before ultimately being discarded. Yet those false starts led to more exciting alternate outlets. In 2015, Prochet met the members of Dungen at Leviathan Festival, and afterward decided to move to Sweden for over a year to work on a new new album with the band’s Reine Fiske and the Amazing’s Fredrik Swahn.
The trio called themselves “the Bermuda Triangle,” because together they would “just get lost in the music.” The result of their efforts reflects a similar immersive wormhole, holding cavernous enclaves of idiosyncratic instrumentation that are wide-ranging and wildly juxtaposed. Removed from Parker’s oversight, Prochet’s irreplaceable voice shines through more clearly on Bon Voyage, a tour de force of whimsical-yet-virtuosic sound-collage pop.
While the music from her debut danced in fits and spurts, each song was typically set around an underlying recurring movement. On Bon Voyage, rhythms will suddenly and drastically shift momentum, toppling over previously established grooves and tones with interludes and breaks that carry only tangentially related elements of the previous section.
Take the very first track, “Cross My Heart,” which opens with a regal parade of orchestral swells and ripples that settle into lush multi-tiered psych-pop, before abruptly dropping out into an incongruous burst of propulsive open-air flute-scatting. From there it spins into a whole mess of moments delivered in rapid clip like flipping through television channels, before finally emerging as a patchwork of fleeting sounds that feel at once magical and distinctly of the Earth. And that’s all in just the first half; the last three minutes of the song carry forward loosely riffing on past segments but mostly blowing them out onto a colossal scale.
“Cross My Heart” is no outlier either; rather, it sets the expectations for the rest of the seven-track record. While most songs reach around or past five minutes to give space for Prochet’s many ideas to stretch out, even the comparably succinct lead single “Breathe In, Breathe Out” fits several independent motifs in its runtime. The song opens with a busy barrage of warped synths, swinging whistles, and chugging drums that marks it as a chamber folk sweep a la Grizzly Bear, but then goes dark without warning a minute in for a brief stop of vocal and sludgy guitar dalliances. It then picks back up into an unforeseen scuzz ripper, and finally mellows out as a sumptuous indie-pop gem.
But continuing to list out every evolution carried on within these songs would take too long, and be nearly impossible anyhow — there’s just so much going on that it takes multiple listens to notice and even more to begin to understand. Almost every song (save the delightful 90-second Swedish folk duet “Var Har Du Vart?” written by Dungen’s Gustav Esjtes), makes use of polyrhythms, multiple languages and nonrecurring hooks. You’re more likely to have favorite sections within songs than an actual favorite song as a whole. But despite the considerable expanse in scope, Prochet threads through each composition some string that carries you from moment to moment in a streamlined flow, dotting every tangent with shades from the same color scheme.
At first it can seem like the band is packing every possible sound into this thing just to see if they can get away with it, but at the second half you begin to notice cyclical stylistic patterns across songs that feel like they complete the record’s wide radius circle. “Visions of Someone Special, On a Wall of Reflections” also employs Eastern strings, as well as widescreen sci-fi synthesizers, but places them in a less chaotic setting, using them to induce calm rather than conjure storm. The similarly serene, but massive “Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige” is a tumbling rush of percussion and acoustic guitar that employs the most repetition of any track here, albeit constantly building up and breaking down those elements until they burn out entirely.
Prochet described the record to Pitchfork as “a kind of well I could scream, confide, and whisper into without prudishness, which I find very hard to do with human beings, who can be so helpless, overwhelmed, and judgmental.” That approach is evident, with Prochet throwing herself at every corner of these compositions to color them in the most extreme contours of her voice. On the most immediate refrain in “Desert Horse,” Prochet offers in a nimble vocal double-tracked by a vocalizer the damning realization, “So much blood / On my hands / And there’s not much left to destroy / I know I am better alone.” She then takes a deep breath, and turns to French for much of the rest of the song to echo the dismal sentiment of tragic sorrow, backed by twisting rhythms that go from fluttering to faltering and back again with imperceptible acceleration.
But in spite of the raw immediacy of every splitting sound, the album also reflects the bucolic surroundings in which it was recorded. Prochet’s depiction of her life in Sweden borders on travel blog hyperbole: “I had a majestic forest with a lake three minutes walk from my home. I would go pick berries in the summer and go for walks when it snowed, meeting a couple of beautiful deer each time.” But even at its most jarring, the music on Bon Voyage feels like it was recorded in fairytale expanses of greenery, with animated woodland creatures singing or strumming in the background or searing beams of sunlight peering in a million fragments out of tree canopy.
The existence of the album is in and of itself a feat, one that was almost derailed by both years of unfulfilling sessions and a traumatic accident that delayed its release right when it seemed to finally be on the horizon. But with her return, Prochet’s gone ahead and subverted our expectations entirely — presenting a piece of music that’s both stronger than her previous work and feels more uniquely her own. Melody’s Echo Chamber was a promising debut, but Bon Voyage breaks that promise and presents us with one even better: Prochet’s singular, uncompromising vision fully realized.