Though it has given birth to many moving classics, neofolk music has always had a problem with repetition and soundalikes. Any standout artist is found after wading through an ocean of Death in June and Sol Invictus worshippers. Even outstanding bands often stick to one well-tread path of their choosing and perfect it in a way of their own. It is rare to find an album or artist that is grounded in the foundations of neofolk, yet pushes that boundary far enough to create something original.
Kentin Jivek & Miro Snejdr’s Voir Dire (which roughly translates to English as “to speak the truth”) is one of these albums. It is an original and refreshing journey into a distinctly French atmosphere. The album is a collaboration between two veterans of the neofolk scene: keyboardist and accordion player Miro Snejdr has performed with Death in June and solo as Herr Lounge Corps and Spitting at Pigeons. Singer and guitarist Kentin Jivek is an experienced songwriter, having released several previous solo albums and collaborations.
A look at Voir Dire’s cover will give an indication of the kind of atmosphere the music evokes: gothic and noir in the strongest French sense, like a walk on the streets of old pre-war Paris on a misty evening. The album contains the kind of music you might expect to hear in a dark art-house foreign film or the parlour of a nineteenth century mansion. This is an unexpected turn in a genre obsessed with Germanic mystic and musical tradition. Yet, this early 20th century French aesthetic is just as ripe for exploration, as Voir Dire adequately proves.
The album opens with the song “Communication”, a strongly atmospheric song which relies on piano, accordion and synthesised strings, with a soft rim-shot and ride cymbal beat to keep time. It forecasts what the listener can expect throughout the rest of the album: sparse arrangements based on voice that sometimes break into spoken word and usually one instrument, be it Snejdr’s keys or Jivek’s clean electric guitar, with other instrumentation providing support to the main melody.
Voir Dire’s lyrics are all French, but, as with many bands, the message is translated as strongly through the music’s overall emotion, thus there is no reason any non-Francophone would be put off due to lack of understanding. Canadian public school education gave me enough French to understand a few snippets of words in these situations, but I’ve never felt my enjoyment was hindered when the music was good enough.
“Comme une Cometé” is another standout track, relying again on the base of Snejdr’s excellent piano playing. This track also captures Jivek’s voice at its best; emotive and distinct, it crescendos to a powerful climax at the song’s end in an impressive showing of dynamic range. “Et Amon Ra Aussi” contains distant echoes of legendary Quebecois band Harmonium in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. The song adds a heavier tom beat along with some more rhythmically heavy piano playing, making it the album’s most driving song, and one of its most memorable.
Other songs on the album experiment with different tempos and styles. “Pair et Face” shuffles along in a jazzy waltz. “Je Suis un Nomade” strips back to only Jivek’s guitar and voice for most of the song before a more symphonic sound arises briefly at its end.
The album is not without its flaws however, such as Jivek’s inability to attain a pitch-perfect performance on every note, or a leftover metronome being audible low in the mix on some quiet passages. That said, in a genre where some of the top-tier legends couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, as my father might say, a few slip-ups do more to add character to a performance than to take enjoyment away from it. A few of the tracks come off as a little flat, but none of them seem out of place in Voir Dire’s flow, and when the best moments hit, they stay with the listener long after.
There is enough strong and varied material on this album to hope that Jivek and Snejdr continue their alliance into the future and hone what they are already obviously able to accomplish together. The unique aesthetic that they have tapped into on Voir Dire deserves to be fully explored as far as they are able to take it.
02) L’Effet Domino
03) Le Nombre D’or
04) Si Un Jour
05) Le Temps Ne S’Offre Pas
06) Pair Et Face
07) Et Amon Ra Aussi
09) Comme Une Cometé
10) Je Suis Un Nomade