The Mystery School – Flambeaux Noirs

01/08/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: The Mystery School
Title: Flambeaux Noirs
Label: Ars Benevola Mater
Genre: Ambient/ Experimental

Track listing:

01 The Drawing Of Night
02 Of The Mist
03 Enchantment Of The Deer People
04 Burning Ghostly
05 Waiting For The Sky To Open
06 For Ages
07 Healed By Water
08 She Dreamed Of Going To The Stars
09 Flambeaux Noirs
10 The Rock Of Seclusion
11 Forest Of You
12 Cocoon Of The White Dwarf
13 Winterkill
14 Evenfall

“Flambeaux Noirs” is a confusingly bisectable piece of work. On the one hand, The Mystery School can provide enchanting, serene melodies perfectly befitting of their niche within the ambient genre, and on the other they produce some of the most irritating and unlistenable music I’ve come across for a long time. I wish that such a fallacious dichotomy was intentional in its irony, though I’ll have to live with the more likely premise that it isn’t. No band would consciously create such a work of opposites in order to prove some obscure artistic point would they? It’s like trying to comprehend the twisted oeuvre of Aliza Shvarts or Guillermo Vargas, finger-pointing at their critics and artistic demographic by challenging ‘preconceptions’ of art through petulant by-number point-proving. I’d love to think that The Mystery School were doing something similar, but I’m sorry to say that’s just not the case. Though “Flambeaux Noirs” has a good dollop of atmosphere on order, it’s more of a side dish or a condiment – which leaves the mains with a whole lot more to answer for.

“Flambeaux Noirs” is presented in a rather standard, bleak jewel case with coarse blue and black artwork. Its comfortably obscure imagery is generic enough to be both inoffensive and apt for the ambient scene [if indeed the ambient genre has a scene at all] while the majority of the text appears in swirly, corsiva fonts. It’s like looking at something Black Tape For A Blue Girl would come out with but on an even smaller budget: the kind that means you can produce the artwork on a standard Windows application like Paint. I sometimes end up wondering whether bands sit round and huff at the fact that they have to draw up artwork at all, getting their nephew to run something off on the Pentium III for a stack of Beanos and some chocolate coins. It won’t be long until they give up altogether and we’re receiving CDs in brown paper bags together with traces of spring onion and lettuce.

The Mystery School use dreamy, basic synth melodies, male and female vocals and occasionally subtle trip-hop-esque beats and violins. At times they can affect an atmosphere well and there are moments such as in “Burning Ghostly”, “The Rock of Seclusion” and “Forest of You” where the album boasts some quite impressive numbers. The Mystery School are at their best when the vocals are kept to a minimum, letting the instrumentation carry the feelings, as is also shown in the wonderful “She Dreamed of Going to the Stars” with its ethereal, introspective feel, reminiscent of something you’d find on a Stoa album.

Where “Flambeaux Noirs” falls down is when there are too many elements clashing together in one track, and sadly some of the elements which work the least well are the vocals. Though the male voices are fairly competent and well done for most of the time, the female vocals are bordering on dreadful and almost permanently out of tune. It’s so grindingly painful to listen to that I have no idea why their inclusion was considered, least of all allowed, unless the band wanted to exploit some kind of acquired taste for its audience or force us to think outside the box with regard to what we can tolerate from music. The song “For Ages” is probably the most of this guilty of this: its tired, childlike synth melody going down as one of the most vehemently irritating songs I’ve ever had to listen to. I could actually feel genuine rage building up inside me each time it came on, pining desperately for track 7 for fear of ripping out all my optical drives and stuffing them down next door’s soakaway which, seeing as I live round the corner from Denis Nilson, wouldn’t be out of keeping with the area.

There’s no doubt that there are some satisfyingly elevating elements to “Flambeaux Noir”, so it’s frustrating that the album is imbued with so many inconsistencies. The fantastic dreamlike instrumental cadences of some of the songs seem incongruously tied alongside numbers with poor vocals and unimaginative lyrics. Such a dynamic is so heavily and naturally marred that it’s difficult to look on “Flambeaux Noirs” as a consistent album and easier to see it as an experiment in ambient music that would succeed if half of it were removed from itself, almost like giving the album its own lobotomy. It would be great to see a work of more instrumental ambient from the band because the way things are currently going, the quality is quite disappointingly sub-par.

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