Published May 07, 2018It's clear from the cover art that the second release from Jean-Michel Blais is going to be different. While 2016's Il (and its own cover art) offered a snapshot of the pianist composing at home in his Montreal apartment, here, Dans ma main features a twilit pair of hands cupping a pool of liquid reflecting a starry night scene, the distant sources of light filtered and more obscured.
With the amber-preserved sunny days that shaped and informed Il persisting only as distant memories of the recent past, Dans ma main is a distinctly nocturnal affair. Recorded almost exclusively between nine p.m. and three a.m., Blais's sophomore release expands the methods executed on Il to accommodate a new vista of electronic sounds, picking up naturally on the piano-meets-synth dialectics of last year's collaborative EP with CFCF while offering a vision that's fully his own.
Blais's Ableton explorations mark everything here, but for the most part, they're employed as a means of expanding on the piano's own abilities, further processing acoustic sounds to make them spin into focus like the album leading note at the top of the heavily backmasked "fortresse," while elsewhere summoning synthetic strings and other sounds to accompany the rolling of his piano dramas or simply emitting cloudy drones that colour all the spaces between the notes.
While the electronic elements are generally more subdued, taking charge only briefly if at all, moments like "blind" and "igloo" provide more comprehensive glimpses of Blais's production savvy.
While aerated electronic rhythms dominate the backend of the former, "igloo" is more properly immersed in a world of electronic sounds, rallying backmasked pianos into an icy IDM trip. Blais ties it all in with an extended piano coda, but it's a fascinating, expertly crafted departure that hints this isn't the last we've heard of the musician's forays into electronics.
While Blais's first album was augmented by whatever background noises naturally seeped in from outside his open apartment window, here, he's introduced sampling into the mix. "outsiders" opens with a clip of an interview with Basquiat that Blais treats both as thematic and structural prompt, and the ripples are felt throughout the album as Blais incorporates ideas of pastiche into his own piano playing, making chord references to Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" and Radiohead's "Pyramid Song" on "roses" before slipping in a sample of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Elsewhere, on "a heartbeat away," Blais references chords from Leo Sayer's "When I Need You."
If Blais welcomed listeners into his head by turning up the volume on the world immediately surrounding around him on Il, with Dans ma main, he's immersing himself in the ideas and urges lurking deep within him, responding the only way he knows how. Far from spiralling inward, as always, Blais lets it all flow through him, and as private becomes public, the result is yet another intimate masterpiece. (Arts & Crafts)