Semool are a French band from beneath the underground. Essais was recorded between 1969 and 1971. Acid-drenched psychedelia, lo-fi before lo-fi was a thing, guitars swamped in delay and oddly reminiscent of both Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. Essais is the third release in a series of ten reissues by French underground label, Futura.
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- Essais by Semool
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The record’s sleeve quotes its proudest summary: “This is what might’ve happened if an absinthe-laden Pink Floyd had cut a session for Actuel/BYG!”. A nice thought, but not quite what I had in mind: Semool are more like the canal-locked riffs of Boris’ ‘Flood’ meeting the lo-fi strums of Phil Elverum and the sparse non-exercises of Glenn Branca. The truth is you can quote any sounds you like, as long as they add up to something you’ve never heard before: ‘Essais’ feeds into a lot of different compositional traditions, and also largely exists outside of them, out where there’s no one to tell you what to do.
With a barrage of feedback, plaintive picking and cerebral abstract notation, Semool made one of the most singular “guitar” records ever made. ‘Essais’ attempted to sonically reduce our sense of perspective and our understanding of distance, and that disregard for time and grounding has given it its own special longevity. Its echoing riffs (‘made sounds’ might be a better term for those fragments) fade and return, continually manipulating the headspace of the listener until we have nothing to transcend. Other distant, rarely heard sounds get filtered into the mix of beauty and noise: the sound of a snoring man is thrown in there, and organic percussion is construed out of nothing as the record’s first side comes to a close.
‘Essais’ is seminal as a purely disorientating work, one that cartwheels around convention and brings together noise compositions that you probably think you could make yourself. You could make ones like these, sure, but ‘Essais’ suggests these ones can never be recreated: they’re the sounds of an artist working immediately and intuitively, hauled up over instruments and non-instruments as the hands move faster and faster. The truth is that noise isn’t cyclical, but excessive, and ‘Essais’ rests on that realisation.
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