Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies – Earth Air Spirit Water Fire (Ván Records, 06 December 2013)
Good afternoon. It’s been about eleven days since you last heard from me — sorry, but I’ve had shit going on. Like one of those times where everything decides to break all at once, and everything needs urgent attention. Whatever. I hope you’ll be able to forgive me when you hear the ABSOLUTE FUCKING MASTERPIECE that I’m sharing with you today. This album — a solo work by the former guitarist of Dutch occult band The Devil’s Blood — was released to not-a-whole-lot-of-acclaim at the tail end of 2013, and then was tragically overshadowed by its creator’s death just about three months later. A huge surge in attention for his former band ensued, but it felt (to me, anyway) like this record accidentally got swept under the rug. Which is really a shame, because it’s sheer genius.
One quick word of caution, before we get started, though — speaking of genius. This article is going to contain references to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. If hearing those names conjures images of sappy poppy teeny bopper surf music — and nothing further — please take a moment to educate yourself about what is universally considered to be that composer’s (and his band’s) landmark achievement in the history of recorded music. You can thank me later. When you’re ready, please join us directly beneath the following photograph…
I don’t recall exactly when I first heard Earth Air Spirit Water Fire, but it surely was sometime after I had already put together my list of 2013’s best releases, or else this album — which came out in December of that year — would surely have hit the top ten. Opening track “Chiaroscuro” — aptly named, as (like the album as a whole) it is a poignant juxtaposition of dark and light, set against a complex arrangement of texture and feeling — kicks in right away following the climax of its introduction, which is a powerful and emotional preacher’s oration that had been borrowed from a fairly obscure (and controversial) 1970s film. When it does, the listener immediately begins to perceive the immeasurable depth of this work of art: precise rhythms (courtesy of an orchestration somewhat similar to that of ELO‘s intense instrumental Fire on High) are intertwined with numerous layers of vocals, giving the impression that this is exactly the sound that Brian Wilson had in his mind, which he struggled to capture on tape, in the ultimately-abandoned sessions that were intended to produce a follow-up that was expected to eclipse the highly-acclaimed Pet Sounds. Now, I’m not trying to imply that Earth Air Spirit Water Fire is better than a record that was so groundbreaking, Sir Paul McCartney cited it as a major influence on his own band’s change in direction — going as far as to say Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had been The Beatles‘ attempt to replicate it. I’m just saying that the music found here would not have in any way been out of place among what did survive from that period, including the lush and complex arrangements that came to be referred to as a “Pocket Symphony,” and the chilling minor-key harmonizations of (in this writer’s opinion) one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.
The songs present here — there are five altogether, roughly corresponding with the elements listed in the album title, or representing the points of a pentagram — all have a distinctly different feel; while each features equally complex systems of layers, the whole thing brings together multiple layers of multiple layers, like a five-dimensional pentahedron — if such a thing even exists. (I tried to research this, but it just ended up making my head hurt. Although I did find some interesting images.)
Anyway. The “enemies” referenced in the band name apparently consist of numerous guest artists who contributed to various parts of this album, including drummers and vocalists (one of which was Selim‘s sister Farida Lemouchi, with whom he’d also worked in The Devil’s Blood), among others, which probably contributed somewhat to the album’s varied nature. For instance, while the lead vocals in portions of the opening track tend to sound Bowie-esque, those in “Next Stop, Universe B” take on more of a Syd Barrett quality. Incidentally, this second song, rather airy and spacey in nature, matches its vocal styling with a vibe reminiscent of Barrett‘s work in the early days of Pink Floyd — with a synth part over the last minute or so that’s tonally rather similar to Rick Wright‘s solo section in the version of “Astronomy Domine” found on the quasi-live Ummagumma album.
Moving right along, the third song “The Deep, Dark Waters” starts off with a subdued, downtrodden feeling, bringing to mind something like “Sing,” the Blur song from the Trainspotting soundtrack, while its second half gives way to a massive guitar solo over a heavier version of the same chord sequence. Penultimate track “The Ghost of Valentine” consists mainly of ambient soundscapes, at times recalling the extended intro to the previously-mentioned “Fire on High” while at others sounding like something that would feel right at home on The Division Bell (along with the Grammy-award-winning “Marooned” or the trippy mid-section of “Poles Apart“).
Finally, the album — and sadly, the extent of this band and its apparently troubled ringleader’s musical output — comes to a conclusion with “Molasses,” opening up as an ELP-ish synth-driven rocker, but quickly devolving into something more serene and ponderous: a minimal guitar/organ motif with plenty of atmospheric elements around, and alternating vocal lines displaying all the vulnerability of Tommy‘s “See Me, Feel Me” but also all the beauty and raw emotion of “Child in Time” — even using a wordless “ahhhhhh” to a similar goose-bumpy effect, while also miming that song’s epic build-up. Gradually the pieces fall away, until a bit of gentle acoustic guitar leads to a peaceful conclusion, leaving the listener to pause and reflect a while.
Well. That was a lot of words describing bits and pieces of these songs, but honestly the album is so much more than just the sum of these various parts. All I can do, really, is to strongly recommend you give Earth Air Spirit Water Fire a listen on Bandcamp (see below), and then grab yourself a download (here). If you prefer, physical copies may be obtained straight from Ván Records, either on CD or vinyl.
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Hey, thanks for telling where the intro was from, it was killing me! Great intro on a great album. Found the review trying to solve the above mystery.
Keep up the pen and the sword!
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Appreciate you stopping by, Tom. Thanks for reading!