Followers of dark ambient music are likely aware of Lambwool, the one-man project of French musician Cyril Laurent. With a consistent flow of releases over the past decade, Laurent has refined and developed his lush, cinematic sound. In 2012, the tenth anniversary of the project was celebrated with the release of this double-disc album, A Sky Through the Wall, on the French OPN imprint. The second accompanying CD, Dust, is comprised of rare and unreleased tracks, compilation appearances, and demo recordings that reveal the development of his sound over the years.
For those unfamiliar with his work as Lambwool, Laurent excels at a fusion of dark ambient, neoclassical, and darkwave, often to a powerful, cinematic effect. Imagine Into the Labyrinth-era Dead Can Dance colliding with mid-70’s Tangerine Dream and you’re halfway there. Huge chords explode over arpeggiated piano, building to monumental crescendos. There’s very close attention to structure, dynamics, and composition, with all the qualities of a highly dramatic film soundtrack intact. Even though it’s completely instrumental, with the exception of the sacral choir on the album’s haunting outro, you can’t help but feel the emotional resonance of an implied narrative. The tone is definitely melancholic, but never in a depressive way; the soundscape is always inviting and envelops its audience with its scope and depth.
When compared to many offerings within the genre of dark ambient and its various offshoots, the music of Lambwool is really quite accessible. It doesn’t necessarily set out to push any boundaries, even at its most experimental, and that is absolutely fine. It’s simply beautifully composed and produced instrumental music that’s only too happy to exist in its own universe. Most importantly, it’s absolutely genuine.
Aside from the grandiose arrangements, the greatest strength of A Sky Through the Wall is in its songwriting; all the elements of production exist to serve the melody, and the tracks never overstay their welcome. Although the songs are relatively short in length when compared to similar artists, they always develop and conclude in a very natural and well-thought-out way. Laurent seamlessly mixes electronic and acoustic elements together. Huge swells of strings, washes of noise, and ethereal tones rise up to meet the crashes of orchestral percussion. The three central tracks feature lead violin, both electric and acoustic, which is beautifully played by Albane Geslain.
I’m not sure how much of the source sound material is electronically generated or acoustically recorded, but it really doesn’t matter in the end because the overall quality of the production is so well done. Much of the scraping lead melodies sound acoustic, but they’re frequently morphed into synthesizer pads and other designed sonic events, so it’s hard to tell. Almost no sound is repeated between the songs, with the exception of the piano, but the thematic and timbral consistency is maintained. No easy feat when working alone in a very subjective environment. It’s highly charged romantic music, and unabashedly so. At times, A Sky Through the Wall reminded me somewhat of the Front Line Assembly side-project from the 90s, Will.
By the end of A Sky Through the Wall, I was struck by how well Lambwool had won me over. My own taste usually leans towards the more innovative and experimental, but here I couldn’t help but be drawn into this sound-world. If I can’t have innovation, inspiration will do, and this music certainly has that to a very dramatic degree. After many repeated listens, my respect for Laurent’s artistry has only grown. I’m very fond of this record, and after familiarizing myself with the first disc, I felt it was time to dig into Dust, the accompanying second disc of rarities. Hearing the project at its beginning and tracing how it has matured and found a voice over the years is fascinating.
On Dust, there are many examples of songs that explore Lambwool’s diversity as a composer and sound designer. ‘Daedalus’, for example, successfully veers into more abstract IDM territory. Laurent’s signature dramatic melodicism is still present, but over a looping industrial rhythm, much more abrasive than anything on A Sky Through the Wall. Some of the early unreleased demos are of interest mainly for their historical context and revealing the roots of the project: the first tentative steps towards a well-defined and unique voice. Overall, the Dust portion of the release is still a pleasant listen, and for a compilation of songs amassed over a long period of time, it stands up quite well.
The music of Lambwool, as presented on this double-disc effort, is a welcome discovery and a high point in cinematic romantic ambient. It’s a sumptuous and emotional journey through a darkened world that you can nod your head to, or just sink into.
02) No Man
06) Don’t Fall Asleep
07) A Sky Through the Wall
04) Time (It Doesn’t Exist)
05) Her Ghost (Still in the Room)
06) Daedalus (Feat. Remain Silent)
07) This Location
08) Your Picture
11) Forbidden Way