An Pierlé – Helium Sunset

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

After 1999’s MUD STORIES, HELIUM SUNSET is the second album from Belgian singer songwriter An Pierlé and sees her expanding on the piano-led blueprint of her previous work with fuller string-led arrangements and occasional driving percussion.

The album opens strongly with the dynamic SORRY, Pierlé’s plaintive voice wrapped in warm piano and shimmering guitar, before mutating into the nocturnal jazzy waltz of AS SUDDEN TEARS FALL and the countrified ballad NOBODY’S FAULT, accompanied by the world-weary baritone of her partner, guitarist and producer KOEN GISEN, in an unexpectedly thrilling duet.

SISTER shifts things up a gear, with raw guitars, martial drumming and a hint of electronics backing Pierlé’s unhinged vocals, climaxing in a burst of controlled chaos. It’s like PJ Harvey fronting a cut from Nine Inch Nails’ THE FRAGILE and it’s a fantastic change of direction from the opening three songs. KISS ME returns to quiet, electro-ballad territory, not a million miles from the glacial texture of Björk’s VESPERTINE, while the title track introduces found sound rhythm à la Tom Waits’ BONE MACHINE, and ONCE AGAIN a haunting vocal performance worthy of Kate Bush.

Forthcoming single SING SONG SALLY returns to the electrifying rock-stomp of PJ Harvey, heavy on the jangling guitars and sprinkled with electronic effects, snaking around the Neil Young lyrics that Kurt Cobain used so chillingly as his last words, “It’s better to burn out than fade way”. If anything, the spectral LEAVE ME THERE is even more shiver-inducing: “Leave me there by the fire / cover me with a blanket / over my dead body”.

The album ends with WALK, a funereal lament with nothing but an accordion, piano and a warped guitar to accompany Pierlé’s ghostly voice. It’s a spectacular finale, fading out before an acoustic birdsong-accompanied hidden track.

Comparisons to Tori Amos are bound to follow An Pierlé if this album manages to bring her the success she clearly deserves – both offer intelligent and atmospheric song-writing, and both are willing to push musical boundaries. But lazy comparisons do not really do her justice. This is an impressive, varied album without a single weak track and a record I wasn’t expecting to like as much as I did.

Most definitely a talent to watch.

5 stars