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CHEVAL SOMBRE – Cheval Sombre (CD, Double Feature CD-DBL-0003)

Posted: June 20th, 2009, by Simon Minter

It’s going to be difficult not to mention the influence of Sonic Boom on this album. There’s a clear line that can be traced from Spacemen 3’s more somnambulant and hazy output, through the electronic recreations of psychedelic states of Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research, to arrive at a collection of songs here that uncannily refers to and builds on the feelings of drug-damaged bliss that Sonic Boom has been wandering through for years. Indeed, the Rugbyite ex-Spaceman himself has his fingers entwined with those of Cheval Sombre here – playing organ and ‘effects’ and contributing his formidable production skills to create a crystal-clear sound where every guitar twang and electronic throb has its own space to exist.
Cheval Sombre seem to have friends in high places. There’s not only the Sonic Boom connection, but also the guest musicianship of Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips – aka Luna, and the man who started Galaxie 500 – on several tracks. Double Feature, who released the album, is the label of Wareham and Phillips. So there it is; a close-knit unit of musicians with a pretty impressive heritage.
The question is, does it work? Is this album the beautiful, lost offspring of a union between Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Galaxie 500 and Luna? To some extent, yes it is. The whole album exists at a slow pace, with blissfully soft guitar strum floating gracefully above an almost constant hum of electronic tones, and long arcs of feedback forming a sitar-like background to much of the work. At times – ‘Troubled Mind’ and Doors cover ‘Hyacinth House’ for example – the drone core to the music is lost, giving the music a lift into the stratosphere to add a further layer of dreaminess. There’s a careful maintaining of ‘feel’ at play here; the result, as a whole, is as if the band are collectively winding down after a previous heavy night. With a vocal style very much like the small, reedy, blues tones used by Spacemen 3, there is sometimes a fear that the music is so light that it might fall apart. It just about holds it together, capturing the listener in the eye of a very gentle storm, but it might be good to hear some of the chaos that surely existed before this type of bliss can have been attained. That was always one of the attractions of Spacemen 3 – their ability to dive headlong into mayhem – and so perhaps Cheval Sombre could expand their sound into these more heady areas. As it is though, I’m satisfied enough to drift away for a while with this album.

Cheval Sombre live in New York:

Cheval Sombre at Myspace
Double Feature at Myspace