YANN TIERSEN has announced a new album, Portrait, acollection of 25 newly recorded tracks from throughout his career that includes three new songs, out on Mute on 6 December 2019. The album will be released on heavyweight triple vinyl, double CD, cassette and digitally. Both the clear and black vinyl editions of Portrait include an exclusive 7” with brand new alternative harpsichord versions of ‘Comptine d’Un Autre Été (L’Après-Midi)’ and ‘The Waltz of the Monsters’, unavailable elsewhere.

Recorded with musicians together live in The Eskal studio to 24 track 2 inch tape, mixed to stereo ¼ inch tape then mastered from tape to vinyl, the album is a fully analogue approach for Tiersen. “Limiting our ability to digitally manipulate, overdub or make changes after deciding a creative path gave an energy and beautiful tension to the recording process which I’d found was being lost with the limitless possibilities of digital recording. Not translating sounds into 1 and 0 keeps music in the real world.” The result is a vital album that fizzes with the excitement and energy found at a live concert, but packed into a studio album.

Featuring collaborations with John Grant, Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals, Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))), and Blonde Redhead, the album was recorded with touring collaborators Emilie Tiersen, Ólavur Jákupsson and Jens L Thomsen at The Eskal, the new analogue studio complex Tiersen recently built on his home island of Ushant in Brittany. 
Listen to the first two tracks to be launched from the album, ‘Introductory Movement (feat. Stephen O’Malley) and Monochrome (feat. Gruff Rhys): 

The reinterpretations for Portrait span Tiersen’s entire career: from his debut album The Waltz of the Monsters (1995) through to Dustlane (2010) and includes his most recent albums, EUSA and ALL. The album includes ‘Porz Goret’, ‘Rue des Cascades’, ‘Monochrome’, ‘Comptine d’Un Autre Été (L’ Après-Midi)’ and ‘La Dispute’, giving fans an opportunity to re-discover beloved tracks in what Tiersen considers to be their definitive versions. 

Tiersen says “The apparent lightness or simplicity of some of my tracks has always been a disguise or reaction to their darker side. For instance ‘La Dispute’ is about extreme violence, blood, death and the strange state of shock you feel in the moments after something horrible has happened. That’s one of my darkest tracks and I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea of people thinking it’s a romantic thing to listen to on a date. People seemed to understand it when it was first released, but the use of my music for cinematic purposes put a sort of false mask on the face of the monster. I feel that Portrait puts my tracks in context again so people can listen to my music and see it for what it is and not for what it’s been used for.”

The original idea for the recordings came during rehearsals for Yann Tiersen’s ALL Tour, when Tiersen recognised how these new versions tied his career spanning setlist together and saw an opportunity to take the band into the new studio to record these new interpretations. For tracks from albums that were originally recorded in the 1990s on a cheap D.A.T digital recorder, this would be the first chance to record these tracks through a pure analogue path, from microphone, to tape, to vinyl, and for some of the more recent tracks, it was a chance to re-examine some of their themes and meanings and see how they relate to the earlier tracks. Throughout his career a sense of place has always been incredibly important to Tiersen’s work and this, along with his passion for Arne Naess and his concept of deep ecology have combined to give this album a powerful sense of passion and meaning.

For the original version of ‘Comptine d’Un Autre Été (L’Après-Midi)’, known by many for its inclusion in the 2001 film Amelie, Tiersen recorded an old, previously unreleased track for the director, but was never content with what he perceived as an heartless interpretation on a very cold digital recording. On this new recording, Tiersen explains, “I felt like I rediscovered the track again, and could play it in more of a personal way, linking it back to my own in life in Ushant. It’s good to have it back!” while on ‘The Waltz of the Monsters’, Tiersen records a completely different version with toy piano, harmonium and effects, giving the track an Italian horror film twist.

Portrait has given Tiersen an opportunity to invite artists into The Eskal to collaborate. He expands, “It was so good to have people in the studio, that’s what it’s for. Nowadays collaboration is so often file exchange, which is fine, but it is so good to have everything analogue and artists come in for some proper studio time.” These collaborators are both vocal and instrumental. Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals recorded vocals for ‘Monochrome’ alongside Emilie Tiersen for a new stripped back version, allowing Tiersen the chance to give the lyrics and meaning more clarity, something he felt was masked in the original (from 1998’s The Lighthouse). He explains, “There are lots of overdubs with the violin and the harpischord in the original, and I always felt that it masked the lyrics and the song. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t like the original version, but I always wanted to strip it down to something more straightforward and allow someone to sing it with more weight and clarity on the lyrics.”

Stephen O’Malley, best known as one of the founders of Sunn O))) came to the island to bring his unique sonics to two tracks, ‘Introductory Movement’ and ‘Prad’, and added spoken word to a new track, ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’, alongside John Grant. On ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’, one of three new tracks recorded for the album, John Grant, Stephen O’Malley and Melanie Knott’s spoken word recital of an excerpt of Aldo Leopold’s ‘A Sand County Almanac’ which combine for a powerful incantation on deep ecology. For ‘Prad’, one of the newer tracks on the album (taken from 2019’s ALL), Tiersen had the sound and power of Sunn O)))’s guitars in mind for the original recording as a contrast to the piano but just left it as it was. When O’Malley came to Ushant, he took the opportunity to have his collaboration on that track, as well as on a very early song, ‘Introductory Movement’. Tiersen explains “I was so amazed by Stephen’s sensitivity, musicality and kindness. He came up with exactly the right thing at the right moment  – the walls were shaking – it was beautiful and it was so precise.”

The opportunity for Tiersen to be able to record both old and new material lies at the centre of Portrait and ‘Closer’, featuring Blonde Redhead, is one of three new compositions on the album. Tiersen explains, “I was expecting to write new material for this album, that was always the plan. I had been working on this track for a long time and Emilie suggested asking Blonde Redhead to sing the song, which was perfect. Unfortunately they couldn’t come to Ushant, so they sent files from New York and Italy. But it worked so well, it was almost as though they were there. I love this band, but we hadn’t met and we still haven’t! They are the exception on this album, but we will meet.”

PORTRAIT TRACKLISTINGIntroductory Movement (featuring Stephen O’Malley)
The Long Road (La Longue Route)
Monochrome (featuring Gruff Rhys)
Chapter 19 (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)Rue des Cascades (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)
The Old Man Still Wants It
Gwennilied (featuring Emilie Tiersen)
Prad (featuring Stephen O’Malley)
Diouz An Noz (featuring Emilie Tiersen & Ólavur Jákupsson)
Porz Goret
La Dispute
Pell (featuring Emilie Tiersen)
Erc’h (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)
The Wire (Sur le Fil)
The Waltz of the Monsters (featuring Emilie Tiersen)
Closer (featuring Blonde Redhead)
The Jetty
Koad (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)
Prayer No.2
Gronjord (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)
Kala (featuring Ólavur Jákupsson)
Comptine d’Un Autre Été (L’Après-Midi)
Tempelhof (Part 2)
Thinking Like A Mountain (Feat. John Grant & Stephen O’Malley)

All pre-orders from Yann Tiersen’s store and Mute Bank will be packaged with exclusive set of analogue printed photographs taken during the recording session at The Eskal.

Matt Mead

Matt Mead

Freelance writer who likes anything with heart and soul