American singer-songwriter, poet, and photographer Thomas Meluch, known musically as Benoît Pioulard, returns with his most structured and vocal release to date. Titled »Eidetic,« a word denoting the ability to recall mental images with extraordinarily rich precision, the album presents unprecedented clarity and vitality for Benoît Pioulard. To access its thematic ground, Meluch looked inward with an affinity towards the people he loves during a period marked by his move from Seattle to Brooklyn in 2019. The resulting work engages with the universe's unflinching mortality and, as he says, »the ways it has modified and improved my relationships, especially with family.« Embodied by the creek, leaves, and ferns of the cover photography — taken in Michigan's Burchfield Park, where he and his dad used to hike and »muse on existence« — the music glistens and unfurls with the flow of life he's come to know. »Eidetic« is the culmination of Meluch's craft both as a producer and writer. An evocative sonic vocabulary meets deft lyrical introspection, articulated with the nuance, vulnerability, and confidence of a longtime artist hitting a stride.
Meluch has continually refined, redefined, and adjusted the focus of his gentle pop project over the last 20 years. Recorded primarily with guitar, tapes, and voice — and spanning labels with albums for Kranky, Morr Music, Beacon Sound, and Past Inside the Present — his catalog flows seamlessly between ambient improvisation and pop composition. Much like the analog photos that often accompany his releases, songs can feel dreamily softened and distant, and others beautifully vivid and detailed. 2021 full-length »Bloodless« found Meluch deep in droning decay, expressive yet wordless. With »Eidetic,« he swings back to sharpened forms. Lush banks of treated guitar and synth brush against hushed percussion; there is mist in the distance, but everything up close is intricately constructed and radiant. Meluch's voice is notably forward in the mix — a warm and calming tenor, a harmonic coo more than a whisper — ever-observant and actively processing.
To record much of the album, Meluch filled a cabin in rural Maine with his usual setup of simple percussion, a couple of Fender electrics, and a parlor guitar made by his friend who does bespoke luthier work. The modest utility is what he knows best, and here he pushes the output to its most pristine potential.
»Eidetic« opens in a swirl of familiar haze; »Margaret Murie« eases listeners in, as lush and verdant as the landscapes conserved by its famed namesake. With the setting established, Meluch, the narrator, enters the foreground with »Crux,« a tender piece written about finding new motivations in a new city. »We covet this rare green hue / Here at the farthest point from home,« he sings above a reassuring pattern of strums and percussion. Meluch's prose shines on the swiftly-moving »Nameless,« inspired by the neurological effects that came with the antiquated practice of manufacturing mercury mirrors; »folks would slowly go insane while looking into their own reflections every day,« he adds. The idea informs a series of surreal abstractions before everything drops out in the final minute, and we are left free-floating in eerie nothingness.
Across the album, labyrinthine lyrical ponderings scatter with dazzling imagery, artfully blurring scenes from world history with Meluch's more personal, present-day. The propulsive and earnest »Thursday Night« catches his mind overly active and too stoned, riffing on black holes and songwriting itself. »Halve« references the splitting of the atom, what he considers »the beginning of man's downfall,« and the unrealized initiative proposed by the US government that would have created 'nuclear refuges' in its national parks. Meluch's loved ones weave throughout; »Tet« holds his father's experience in Vietnam and its lasting effects. »Lillian Isola« touches on his maternal grandmother's spinal curvature, and »Pastel Dust« navigates the wake of his cat, who died on New Year's Eve 2020.
At first blush, Meluch's atmospheric and melodic sensibilities resonate purely in their own right. Upon closer meditation, his ability to render stories — many of which surround human tragedy, misfortune, and understanding — through the prism of his poetry makes »Eidetic« even more rewarding.