Prepare to enter the realm of the Non-Metal. Formed in 2003, Les Discrets are a French project started by illustrator Fursy Teyssier as a way of musically expressing the concepts in his visual art. Post-black connoisseurs may recognize Teyssier as having played alongside Alcest‘s Neige in depressive rock collective Amesoeurs, in addition to producing artwork for Empyrium, Wood of Ypres, and Alcest themselves. Not surprisingly, Discrets’ 2010 debut Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées possessed more than a little Alcest influence with its swooping clean vocals and heartfelt melodies, though Septembre was stormier and infused with a dark romanticism instead of childhood nostalgia. Even lacking harsh vocals, it ended up being one of my year-end favorites. Teyssier continued his blackgaze experimentation with 2012’s Ariettes oubliées…, a mellower and altogether more forgettable work. Five years later, will third full-length Prédateurs show Teyssier truly capitalizing on the soaring, wistful sound for which his scene is so renowned?
How do you say “fuck no” in French? While Les Discrets were always just a step or two away from metal on past records, on here Teyssier has turned away from the genre entirely and fled sheepishly in the other direction. Distorted guitars are almost entirely absent on Prédateurs, replaced by crooning vocals and hypnotic beats that draw more inspiration from post-punk than post-black. Subtle synths and background ambiance punctuate compositions that thrive on texture and repetition, with only the occasional weepy guitar melody to remind you this was once a band who dealt in actual riffs.
But is it any good? Answering that question reminds me of what I once heard an old supervisor say after meeting an employee’s spouse who came across as superficially pleasant: “She’s a nice lady.” With regards to Prédateurs, I say: “It’s a nice album.” First proper track “Virée Nocturne” actually seems somewhat promising with its plump bassline and Mogwai-esque piano motif painting a soothing picture of a walk through a city park. By the time the distant guitar solo appears in all its shoegazey glory, I’m almost thinking I might actually enjoy Les Discrets’ new direction. Likewise, follow-up “Les Amis de Minuit” stands out for its twangy Sisters of Mercy guitars, while “Vanishing Beauties” gets peppier with clappy trip-hop beats and more twanginess in its conclusion. But the true standout is “Le Reproche,” which channels the otherworldliness of Connecticut “doomgaze” duo Have a Nice Life with its melancholic guitar lines and faint echoing atmospherics.
Sadly, Prédateurs’ remaining tracks dwell in the realm of soppy, unmemorable post-rock that’s about as exciting as waiting to get picked up at the airport. While some songs do show development by adding new melodies or subtle elements as they progress, most of the record simply floats along with a downcast, self-infatuated pretense that makes these 43 minutes feel like twice that length. With its repetitive vocal patterns, sauntering tempos, and insistence on always remaining as tender and relaxed as possible, Prédateurs is actually a bizarrely exhausting listen for such a mellow album. This is a record that’s so tidy, so dainty, so tightly wrapped in its own sentimental aura, that all I want to do when it’s over is blast Marduk so loud that my dick starts bobbing up and down.
Don’t get me wrong, the problem isn’t that it’s too soft.1 The problem is — as the banal instrumentation and go-nowhere songwriting of “Rue Octavio Mey” show — Teyssier doesn’t always succeed at making soft music interesting. On the positive side, the layered production imbues Prédateurs with a rich sense of depth, and the atmosphere is at times intoxicating. Perhaps the best example is the opening title track, whose tense ambiance is supplemented by a spoken word segment about all forms of life being equal in suffering. With references to fathers dying of cancer and harpoons exploding in mother whales, it’s heart-wrenching — but when a spoken word piece is one of the best songs on the album, you know you have a problem. I guess if you’re looking for something to play in the background next time you’re reading Sylvia Plath, Prédateurs may do the job just fine. For everyone else, check out the better tracks or listen to some Vapour Night and Sun Devoured Earth instead.