Like Chet Baker crossed with David Grubbs, this singer-guitarist, blessed with a gorgeously unguarded voice, takes jazz into bold new territory.
– The Guardian
Slowly Paradise is perhaps a distant cousin to Arthur Russell's World Of Echo, too; it shares that album’s combination of oceanic instrumental tones and unabashedly vulnerable vocals, it also has songs that seem to be private works made public. […] This is a remarkable record - it is wildly experimental and as comforting as a soft embrace. The most interesting art almost always has a sense of duality, and Slowly Paradise is no different; where it radically differs is in the lack of combat between those opposing forces. Chenaux’s love for Sade, for example, in no way contradicts or confuses his love for Derek Bailey. This album is truly his strongest yet, and this closing song is his zenith.
Magnifiquement instable, le jeu de ce guitariste canadien est l'un des plus précieux de la musique expérimentale contemporaine. […] intensément sensuelles, qui lui permettent de faire montre d’un feu d’artifices de timbres étranges et impressionnants en toute sérénité. Ou, pour citer une belle œuvre du chantre de la musique acousmatique française François Bayle récemment rééditée, des «tremblements de terre très doux» à répétition dont les matières très poétiques évoquent autant la trompette fébrile de Chet Baker qu’un solo de stylophone dans un disque d’exotica ou la guitare explosée de Derek Bailey.
Eric Chenaux gets right under the skin and in your head with the intoxicating, jazz-wise chops and strikingly classic-sounding vocals of Slowly Paradise; an instant modern classic if we’ve never heard one.
Chenaux sounds, in some ways, further and further from a tangible reality on this record, but even those moments sound off serenely to me. His instrumental reprise (dare I call it a remix?) of the record’s title track is an abstracted mesh of shifting tones and plucks, but hiding within it is a stay-at-home folksiness that makes me feel centered. The record’s final track and last triumph is “Wild Moon”, an eleven minute long slice of minimalism that lays down on a bed of soft, mallet-like percussion. Over it Chenaux exchanges spewed guitar solos and gorgeously sung thoughts, stray but certain: “Human love. Harmony. Come away with me. I’m a wild moon.” It’s the stuff of a more free, more all-embracing Chenaux; Slowly Paradise is made from tangled knots of the purest joy.
Last autumn Eric Chenaux confessed to The Wire “I don’t think my guitar and my voice agree on much.” He’s not kidding. His singing, high and overtly emotional, travels from the back of his throat straight to wherever each listener stores their reserve of scepticism, then opens its locked door like a master key. His guitar playing, on the other hand, undermines directness at every turn. The bulbous lead on “Bird & Moon” sounds less like a guitar than Robert Wyatt using his mouth trumpet to imitate a kazoo; his strummed accompaniment on the same tune pulses so woozily that Dramamine sales will surely spike in any town where the radio picks it up. […] But is opposition really at work here, or interdependence? A vocal take of the title track prescribes slowing down when the seasons pass; an instrumental version taken at a slower tempo enacts that recommendation. And on “Wild Moon”, semi-comic guitar and a piano that oscillates between Bolero-like ardour and ringmodulated acidity set the stage for words that plead for romantic assignation, but ultimately leave alone. When the singing’s done the guitar returns, its tone so stretched and distorted that you can’t quite tell whether it’s purging or celebrating the lyric’s outcome. Are the voice and guitar together or not? It’s complicated.
This voice is perhaps the funnel for this unfurling of thought, where the splay of feeling is consolidated into phrases. His tone is soft, verging on a whisper, as though straddling the boundary between inner thoughts and outward articulation. Sometimes it falls silent, allowing stuttering stylophones or trembling guitars to carry the monologue forth, alternating between the poetry of language and that which spirals away from what the voice can express. I imagine Chenaux to be daydreaming in these moments, as these instrument solos – sometimes chiming like bells, sometimes melting like wax – paint pictures in the air, trying to enact the images that stream through the mind, vivid and beautiful, yet also fluid and unexplainable.
This is the organic culmination of our protagonist’s most singular travels, and he’s reached a most puzzling bliss. I literally can’t figure it out. […] guitars wobble around as if he’s unwinding the strings in real time, like in the babbling creek of "An Abandoned Rose". […] Slowly Paradise best makes sense as a single session, or maybe one segment of REM sleep. Textures do repeat, the tempo remains a leisurely gamble, and Chenaux muses over motifs – moonlight, the night, slowly, our love. But in dreams, the repetition starts to blur – you trick yourself into déjà vu, recollecting dirt roads that you’ve never tread upon and people that you’ve never met. And you can’t tell yourself it’s wrong, because dream logic demands that it is so. Chenaux’s stumbling, then, creates an oneiric whole – a romance, yes, but casually surreal, with shaky cameras and unexplained backstories.
Chenaux joue ainsi de plein de manières avec sa guitare, de la sourdine, du wah-wah, mais surtout des trames, des trames de rêves, de langueur vivifiante, ou lénifiante selon l’humeur. […] Slowly Paradise ; on nous berce, on nous surprend, on nous tient la main pour nous conduire dans quelque chose de duveteux, de jamais-vu ; Eric Chenaux sert un peu d’ange gardien à travers ce Paradis intime, instinctif, de drones comme du coton, où l’on se perd sans peur du piège, car « All is full of love ». D’un amour trifouillé par Eric, d’un amour plein de vibrations imprévues, de reflets et de brume, mais plein d’amour tout de même.
The title track tilts at Nick Drake and Nina Simone, while strings suggest loose fencing wire twanging in a stiff breeze and a waterlogged Wurlitzer plays. The 11-minute, Robert Wyatt-ish "Wild Moon" - with its woozy keys and extreme fretwork building to a quivering peak – stands out, but sensual beauty abounds.
– Sharon O’Connell, Uncut
A singer and songwriter possessed of angelic sweetness and clarity accompanying himself with largely improvised, visceral guitar textures that seem intent on undermining and obscuring his own songs. It’s the need to communicate tussling with the urge to obfuscate; lucidity versus opacity; form against chaos.
I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t figure it out. I was standing in the barn at Supernormal festival in Oxfordshire at the end of summer. Eric Chenaux is on stage singing and playing, and then singing and not playing, but the molten sound of his guitar carries on. Then he’s playing along to his own echoes, finally stopping his virtual ensemble on a dime to sing a cappella. Solo and accompaniment bounce off each other within the tight matrix of a verse-chorus song, all controlled by Chenaux via his effects pedals. But his feet are touching them when you least expect, and the whole relationship of performer to sounds is in flux.
Chenaux's combination of hacked music box guitar experimentation and lonely lounge crooning conjures a spell simply too enchanting to break. [...] Skullsplitter dispatches the listener on a mission to crack the mysteries of time and space, and without offering much in the way of answers, its potential for repeat listens is enough of a reward. Skullsplitter is a triumph of post-modern songwriting, where decisions can be recast and repurposed to suit the needs of the present.
In the field of avant guitar wrangling, Chenaux's style is genuinely distinctive. His latest is an(other) effortlessly lovely solo set that recalls John Martyn, Marc Ribot, Arthur Russell and the Hardanger fiddle tradition, as it weaves trippily between improve jazz, electronica, folk-drone and lounge balladry. Chenaux's pure, sweet voice soars along Chet Baker and Jeff Buckley lines and he's no lyrical slouch, although an instrumental interpretation of the Rodgers and Hart classic "My Romance" is a highlight. More heartmelter than Skullsplitter – but just as ruinous.
– Sharon O’Connell, Uncut (March 2015)
Mesmerizing, […] Skullsplitter is an intriguing choice in title for this record, as it evokes the image and idea that Eric Chenaux is a man with two brains. At the very least, his two cranial hemispheres might be operating at the same time, but never in tandem. From the left side comes his voice, pure of tone and true; from the right, the wild and wondrous sounds Chenaux coaxes from his guitars. Left brain, ordered and logical. Right brain, experimental and original.
Like his previous (and gorgeous) album Guitar & Voice, Eric Chenaux’s Skullsplitter is an experiment in magnetic poetry, a juxtaposition of opposing poles (namely heavily processed guitar and soft crooning) bent toward each other in forced unity, a bizarrely resonant statement of truth constructed from arbitrary strands of manipulated phonemes squashed together without regard for formal grammar […] Skullsplitter comes off as an unrestricted celebration of balladry rather than an absurdist triumph over linguistic limitations. Spaces between symbols that are normally filled in by your imagination are here filled with vivid images that pour from outside-in. It is therefore somewhat paradoxical that, while Chenaux bends all sorts of rules as he tinkers with folk balladry as a genre, Skullsplitter’s resultant conventional gorgeousness often overshadows its moments of off-road innovation. […] Although it is exploratory in terms of space and texture, Skullsplitter is anything but incidental; it unfolds like an epic poem, in all its boundary-dissolving creativity and intentional patterning. […] As a poem, Skullsplitter is profoundly affective, unbridledly resonant, effortlessly fluid, and distinctly original, even as its stanzas are often filled with thorny consonance and nauseating assonance. […] Skullsplitter is simply a breathtaking feat of balladry and engineering.
La guitare d’Eric Chenaux est un mystère : parfois elle sonne comme une trompette, parfois comme un harmonium. Toujours, elle sonne désaccordée. Mais justement désaccordée. Belle comme la liberté, comme la nature, comme des blocs de glace qui se détachent de la banquise. Étrange, mais jamais abscons ni hostile, juste beau selon des canons de beauté auxquels on n’est pas l’habitué. Eric Chenaux est un guitariste libre, et un chanteur étonnant et délicat, dont les chansons sonnent comme des classiques anciens du jazz et de la soul, mais tombés de leur piédestal, anamorphosés. Eric Chenaux est un martien qui joue de la guitare. L’écouter, c’est apprendre à écouter autre chose, et surtout autrement.
Though he's credited with vocals, guitars (electric, un-amplified electric, nylon-string), speakers, melodica, and electronics, the album's essence is constituted by the combination of his pure voice and idiosyncratic guitar playing. More precisely, his music derives its considerable impact from a striking juxtaposition: on the one hand, a crystal-clear voice that glides and soars, and on the other, guitar playing that never harmonically parallels the voice's trajectory but more diverges from it with oblique, semi-improvised lines. The two function like tributaries that flow in the same direction yet possess distinct shapes. –
In addition to placing his delicate songs into a nakedly intimate and idiosyncratic soundworld, this disc also constitutes the best portrait of Chenaux as a wildly imaginative and extremely sensitive guitarist [Guitar & Voice] is full of the exotic textures and warped phrasing one may have hoped for — ripe chromatic notes dangle inexplicably, thin sustained tones fray at their ends, copious amounts of wah-wah smear and smother loose-stringed bends as drones haunt the periphery. Yet, all the while, it retains a certain poise and clarity perfectly encapsulating what is so intriguing about Chenaux. The gorgeous viol-like bowed guitar instrumentals that make up the interstitial tracks are also a welcome surprise, with their peculiar harmonic intersections and flattened, coarse inflection.
Ornette Coleman might call it harmolodic. Chenaux might call it an amazing background. His strings chime with all those thoughts at once. I adore the way he teases out a melody, never beginning a phrase so much as joining one already in progress. The sound quivers and multiples such that I picture his strings fraying and sprouting into more strings, weeds, nests, marshes, frogs’ tongues, canceled coins, nickel pipes, drainage systems, catacombs, coral reefs…I could pick Chenaux’s guitar out of a lineup within a few woozy notes, because it’s no longer confined to the orthodox pluck, squawk and scrape of [Derek] Bailey-influenced guitar improv; instead it has absorbed Bailey’s open field of possibility into a love of song. And the songs are strong enough to take it.
Canadian musician Eric Chenaux transmits songs through speakers whirled through the air or hidden in mouths. Working with film maker Eric Cazdyn, he plans to sound out an entire cinema.
Chenaux offers Guitar Moderne readers a glimpse of how he arrived at his singular style.