Kerber by Yann Tiersen

Release date: August 27, 2021
Label: Mute

The new album from French composer Yann Tiersen, entitled Kerber is essentially a brand new musical experience for me. My only previous encounter was the striking collaborative track ‘Erc’h’ he made with Olavur Jakupsson, which is how I come to be writing a review of his latest collection. Tiersen wanted to incorporate an electronic element to these new pieces, but it’s in a very subtle way, this is not thumping dance music. Tiersen explains “You may get this intuitive thinking of ‘oh, it’s piano stuff’, but actually it’s not. I worked on piano tracks to begin with but that’s not the core of I, they are not important. The context is the most important thing-the piano was a precursor to create something for the electronics to work around”. I’m not sure I quite agree with the intent mind you, as the piano is very much at the forefront of each of these tracks, albeit if you align your ears to the electronics, you will be richly rewarded.

Tiersen spent the spring writing the piano parts before meticulously adding the electronic elements in the summer under the guidance of Depeche Mode producer Gareth Jones. Kerber is named after a chapel in the small village on the island where Tiersen lives, and each track is tied to a place mapping out the immediate landscape that surrounds his home.

Opening ‘Kerlann’ begins with a sparse and striking piano chiming out a melancholic series of notes over an undercurrent of electronics that ebb and flow, creating an environment of comfort and hope. You can picture an empty room with just the piano in it, shiny floors and a full wall of glass overlooking a sea, with not another sinner in sight. An idealist paradise where the evils of the world are but a distant memory. A random voice appears from the ether, perhaps a loved one calling you back, but its too late, the transition to glory has already taken place. Yes, if you do believe in such a place, ‘Kerlann’ is the sound of the journey to a spiritual resting place.

Your speakers are not broken, the deep rumble that starts ‘Ar Maner Kozh’ is the bass in the place for some warped ethereal electronics to hover over, while the piano effortlessly rolls out another sumptuous melody, that would be perfect for an artistic black and white movie’s opening scene. Tiersen is a master of keeping things simple yet listen closely and you’ll hear a myriad of sounds and textures shift and swerve behind the main piano motif. The mothership lands at the last to beam you up with some spectacular electronic soundscapery.

The warm melodies that permeate ‘Kerdrall’ are a like a blanket of hope giving protection from the icy winds of doom and terror that threaten to engulf us all on a daily basis. When the tempo shifts and Tiersen’s fingers begin to jump and hop over the keyboard it’s a truly beautiful moment of euphoria and joy as the clouds part and rays of sun come bursting through. After repeated plays the melodies begin to become more familiar and the delicate lilt of ‘Ker Yegu’ is a delight to recognise, like recalling the face of a childhood sweetheart. The skittery electronics provide a modern sheen and a kooky experimental edge that means the music has a unique sound despite essentially being a piano ballad.

It’s only at the start of ‘Ker al Loch’ when I am reminded that this album is very alike the soundtrack to the Holly Hunter/Harvey Keitel film The Piano. Of course, Tiersen has previously worked on movie soundtracks and this album is primed for something similar. The mix of electronic sounds and piano is increasingly prevalent here as the track ends in a flurry of hefty John Carpenter-esque keyboards that pump up the tension before twisting and contorting back to the original piano loop via some bizarre hyper-shifting electronic trickery.

At times the spacial extremities of silence, piano and tiny electro sounds remind me of The Orb and their ability to create delicate soundscapes from practically nothing. Title track ‘Kerber’ begins with such an exchange before Tiersen decides to showcase his marvellous talent with a piano. Aiming for something more dynamic and dramatic, the melodies diminish a little as the track jumps about the various component sections that constitute it’s extensive ten-minute length. One of the most straightforward pieces on the album is the blissful closing track ‘Poull Bojer’ which has a gorgeous and immersive melody over swirling electronics. The only track to feature any percussion of note, the sparse drum shots that echo low in the mix are a welcome addition, I’d of liked more beats to add a little depth and dynamic to the atmospherics. But that’s all for now folks.

Not entirely certain of what I was taking on, I enjoyed getting to know Kerber and the delightful combination of piano and electronics that it unfurls. As I said, repeated plays will reward the listener as you become more familiar with the intricate sounds contained in the album. Tiersen clearly has a profound way with melody and his music is truly beguiling and immersive. This was a little diversion for me from the range of music I normally listen to, but I’m glad I took the little trip and hope to revisit these parts again soon.

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