Colleen flirts with dream pop on new album, ‘The Tunnel and the Clearing’

Image by Estudio Primo

The arc suggested by French electronic ambient composer and multi-instrumentalist Colleen’s latest offering, The Tunnel and the Clearing, is simple. It is a journey from darkness to light, from one opening to the next. However, Colleen’s invocation of this journey takes what is otherwise a linear through-line and contorts it as such that the end is the beginning and the beginning is anywhere in the middle. For her, the passage is not merely a straight path but rather a thoroughfare along which exists an entire cosmos of liminality and it is with this nether-realm that The Tunnel and the Clearing finds itself preoccupied. 

For Colleen, the journey is never straightforward. Rather she finds herself occupied with the things that unfold in between and during, allowing these to drive her creative and conscious self towards new discoveries. We see this in her approach to music making, where a single instrument can beget an entire palette of sound. This makes for an album full of transient and fantastical atmospherics, sometimes dazzlingly optimistic as on Gazing at Taurus – Santa Eulalia and at others reflective and foreboding, such as on opening track The Crossing. Often she aims for revelatory effect. This lends the music on The Tunnel and the Clearing a distinctly filmic quality. Where it lands, it quietly allows you to unfold into its transportive psychedelia and may arouse moments of self-realisation. Where it doesn’t, it sounds at best like the soundtrack to a moody and convoluted European science-fiction drama. 

As the seventh album from the composer, The Tunnel and the Clearing may present the most refined version of Colleen’s methodology. While her previous two albums Captain of None and A flame my love, a frequency saw Colleen enamoured with a single key instrument from which she extracted multiple textures (in those cases the treble viola and a Moog synthesiser respectively), this album sees her continue this approach while also returning to a multi-layered, percussive formula. There is a focussed confidence in how she goes about the execution of her stylistic choices, which in turn reveals a deeper harnessing of the already sophisticated experimental prowess first unleashed on Everyone Alive Wants Answers. Implosion-Explosion is a good example. An atypically beat driven take for Colleen, it is a minimal IDM influenced track featuring stuttering percussion and vaporware-like synths which twist and warp around the beat. These synths are then pulled into a straining whistle, full of tension, before releasing into Colleen’s soft, echoing vocals and an organ riff.

The multi-layered and percussion friendly approach on this album emphasises Colleen’s songwriting and vocals in an entirely new way. Her penchant for pop hooks and melodies seems more apparent than before. This makes her compositions here more approachable, pushing The Tunnel and the Clearing very nearly into dream pop territory in what feels like a natural progression from A flame my love, a frequency. There, Colleen had embraced her voice vehemently against minimal synth instrumentals and the result of that embrace is clear across this album. Closing track Hidden in the Current could easily fit alongside the tracks on A flame my love, a frequency, with Colleen’s vocals on the track providing a melodic reprieve from its looping synth experimentation. 

The Tunnel and the Clearing is undeniably beautiful. There is an innate sense of craftsmanship that cannot be overlooked, even in its weaker moments. However, its greatest strength may lie in what it proposes for the future of Colleen. Allowing her the freedom to experiment with pop conventions like never before, the album may very well be the passage that leads us to a whole new side of Colleen’s artistry. If this album is the tunnel and that be the clearing, then it is a journey we are more than willing to make. 

Released by Thrill Jockey Records, The Tunnel and the Clearing is available to download here. See the music video for Hidden in the Current below. 

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