Hearing each measure of Jean Jean‘s latest release pass by is like watching telephone lines out the window of a car, the cable drooping from pole to pole under the heavy weight of information. It is not the information of too many notes at once as it can sometimes happen with heavy records—rather, it is too much density, too much gravity, too much weight moving through the narrow air.
Released on Head Records/Black Basset on February 23rd, Froidepierre is as organic as it is futuristic; as heavy as it is precise. Unlike Froidepierre, Jean Jean’s previous release, Symmetry, was inhabited by human voices and had a certain color and vibrancy to it—Froidespierre, however, is about the supersonic hurtling of sound objects through a silence so black it hangs imposingly overhead like dead weight. In that hurtling, Jean Jean found the sonic equivalent of motion blur.
Froidepierre is post-rock cut to the specifications of arena electronica. What is immediately surprising is the tropes of electronic dance music playing out subtly behind what is otherwise a slapping heavy post-rock/post-metal mix.
The frantic inhales of the compressor do not take the mix over, but throb with the track. The polyrhythms, sandwiched between stretches of thumping kick drum, are less subtle, and make the footing ambiguous even over the virtual concrete paved by a steamrolling synth bass. As the first track, Konichiwa, falls apart, it comes out greeting you like solar wind resonating through a cavernous asteroid—hello? hello?—and the life signs echoing from beyond somehow come as no surprise in a mix so oozing with sonic nutrients. What’s decomposing in this darkness?
With Aozora, the dazzling guitar delay tones lash against the fourth wall like heavy, disconnected, sparking cables in the wind. The rhythmic cells get shorter and start stuttering. Deep space hypnotic. Then—running blind in the dust cloud, no signal—until something breaks through the bulkhead and the track drains of all oxygen. All sound is sucked up. From 1 to 0. Dry cut, reverberation collapsing without a vibratory medium. This digital ruthlessness dispenses with gradients. It becomes clear that we are dealing with what the digital does best—inventing and collapsing sound space at the flip of a switch. Like a stack overflow that terminates in a blue screen of death. No awkward obstinate half-battery stumbling of that which is material.
There’s no need to understand references to higher mathematics to understand that Tensor Field is where the album starts to play by the numbers. The note grid is pointillistic, with sounds drawing the shortest paths between points. The shapes are simple! A certain minimalism emerges.
Celjabinsk’s erratic rhythms play out with the urgency of CGI objects intersecting in object clipping miscalculations—the guitar here is decidedly a guitar, though it acts like a digital object. Or maybe the sound of modern guitar is the sound of a guitar dying.
The spaciousness of Limerence is honestly just ridiculous—those echo tails feel like the Star Wars opening crawl receding into deep space. All over the album, unexpected starts and stops introduce sudden shifts in sound weight. It is a destruction derby of space debris left to play out in a Newtonian sandbox. A subtle, nervous resonance hangs over the space in Froidepierre like an energy discharge anticipating none other but the inevitable reveal at the Event Horizon itself.
Then, just as the giant choral pads approach an overbearing critical mass, the album finishes at a timely and comfortable 33 minutes 15 seconds. Just like Jean Jean’s last release, Froidepierre is a concentrated dose of precisely laid angularity.
Is Jean Jean something like synth wave? Some tropes are there, but it’s too squeaky, too fresh out of the box. And not only are the textures new, they hang together in their palette so well they invent their own color wheel. So it’s hard not to see Froidepierre as at least a future-minded response to the retro nostalgia of synth wave, which has been successfully recycling and distilling the best sounds the 80s ever offered us.
I must admit Froidepierre makes me miss the gang vocals from Symmetry—they made the music feel a little more like you could humanly run along with it. Those hoorahs. Hoorahs for what?—for hurrah’s own sake—like an espresso kicking a hole through the canvas of you. Regardless, Sebastien Torregrossa, Edouard Lebrun, and Gregory Hoepffner take what makes math and post-rock fun and roll it into one sleek space-age polymer. Jean Jean are explorers in the new territory of some remote gas cloud that perhaps only labelmates Quadrupède have made close fly-bys of. All I know is that I shouldn’t listen to this on my bicycle unless I want to cause an accident…