For the uninitiated, the wide-wobbling and out-of-step guitar sounds that dominate the first minute and 22 seconds of Skullsplitter might seem like a test of dedication. But when Eric Chenaux's falsetto chimes in to muse, "Have I lost my eyes? Is that twinkle in my mind?" they'll learn there's no option to turn away. On his first proper solo album for Constellation Records, Chenaux's combination of hacked music box guitar experimentation and lonely lounge crooning conjures a spell simply too enchanting to break.
On 2012's Guitar & Voice, Toronto-based guitarist, songwriter, and producer Eric Chenaux delivered a wildly experimental yet often lovely slice of his solo ballad approach. That record showcased his mellifluous, airy tenor voice in a series of jazz-influenced tunes juxtaposed against a method of guitar playing whose rhythmic phrasing and tonal sensibilities were often dissonant. Skullsplitter furthers this approach.
When the word experimental is applied to music, it is all too easy to imagine some kind of unlistenable horrific noise terrorism that isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is. Cut from a different cloth entirely, Eric Chenaux’s delicate and deft approach creates utterly beautiful and beguiling songs. Few musicians, experimental or otherwise come close.
Like his previous (and gorgeous) album Guitar & Voice, Eric Chenaux’s Skullsplitter is an experiment in magnetic poetry, a juxtaposition of opposing poles (namely heavily processed guitar and soft crooning) bent toward each other in forced unity, a bizarrely resonant statement of truth constructed from arbitrary strands of manipulated phonemes squashed together without regard for formal grammar. However, much like when you compose a poem from a lifetime’s worth of cheekily gifted magnetic poetry packs (expanding your expressive possibilities beyond even what you would consider for a nonmagnetic sonnet), Skullsplitter comes off as an unrestricted celebration of balladry rather than an absurdist triumph over linguistic limitations. Spaces between symbols that are normally filled in by your imagination are here filled with vivid images that pour from outside-in.
Eric Chenaux — Skullsplitter (Constellation Records)Skullsplitter is an example of how often assumption can be the mother of all fudge-ups. Foolishly embracing ignorance over journalistic rigour, I plumped for the ill-informed presumption that this was going to be yet another album by a North American guitarist (I’d established that much) with a large collection of Robbie Basho and John Fahey records and a surely over-hyped skill at fingerpicking. There have been quite a few of those of late, none of them worth noting with the same enthusiasm the masters.
You have to pass through a long tunnel of distortion that phases in and out (like being in a room with a TV set with flickering reception) as you enter the cathedral-like sanctuary of Eric Chenaux's guitar and voice on the avant-balladeer's fifth album. Chenaux's myriad guitar experiments often disrupt the more straightforward lyric and melodic qualities of the songs, including his high, smooth vocals. Since 2012's Guitar & Voice, the guitar has risen in his world, taking up more space in the music.