Album review: KERAVEL – Voltz

At his best Canadian composer, arranger, multi instrumentalist and producer Serge Keravel immerses you in his moods, emotions and instrumental landscapes with infinite possibilities. At worst, he’s a pop synth dabbler like Jean Michel Jarre, all too happy to work a melody and sit in a groove that ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere.

‘Voltz is an album that flatters to deceive, its cleverly constructed, and the choice of samples, the requisite beats and the 16 layered tracks are fashioned by artistic choice, but not always with the apparent spontaneity that the composer would have us believe.

Welcome to the technological advanced, but essentially unchanging world of synth driven electronics, where musical movements slowly evolve over percussive beats that have one eye on the dance floor.

The real question with any computerised music is whether it can ever do much more than fleetingly engage us. For while synthesizers, samples and all manner of contemporary keyboards can probably replicate a full orchestra, the constant synthetic repetitive sounds and slyly altered beats have a limited capacity to touch our emotions.

This may seem a harsh appraisal of some pleasant melodic electronic music. But as Serge Keravel gradually reveals his hand, he’s not actually offering much more than the instrumental pioneers of 40 years ago, such as Neil Ardley’s ‘Harmony of The Spheres’ and Jean Michel’s Jarre’s synth pop (as evidenced by Serge’s ‘Pulse’ and ‘Bright Glare’).

The slower evolving mood music of the Tangerine Dream influenced ‘No Faults’ could also have come from a bygone age. Indeed when things get a tad heavier as on the drone like ‘Soft Surge’, there are echoes of Eno’s 1973 ‘No Pussyfooting’ album.

And yet somewhere in between these influences, is a composer with an ear for a strong melody and enough invention to pick up the baton and run with it. The end result is some innovative twist and turns and intricate dynamics that flicker but ultimately don’t burn.

‘And Then U…’ for example, is full of percolating percussion, synth pulses and what sounds like gentle vibes, while ‘Relays’ combines delicate percussion with a heavy rhythm track, some scintillating funky bass, a wah-wah sound and inevitably a drum machine to lead us into an ethereal choral finish.

Serge’s music may be determined by in the moment spontaneity and his melodies, but he readily slips into the producer’s role to juxtapose the above with the far more introspective and slowly evolving ‘Soft Surge’.

The overall emphasis is on flow, whether it be the quasi-hypnotic groove of ‘Grounded’, or the more distorted and impressionistic ‘Shock Hazard’, with its blend of synth squalls and melodic layers of sound.

There are also moments when he’s pulled towards ambient music, perhaps more accurately described as mood music. The wistful piano led ‘Hertz’, with its big choral finish and the swirling melody of ‘Thin Matter’ are good examples, while you can almost surf on the back of the synth waves of ‘No Faults’.

‘Voltz’ is almost a misnomer for an album that doesn’t so much buzz with electronics as subtly immerses you in it. The closing remix of ‘Pulse’ gives the clearest indication of where Serge’s music is heading, with its synth string intro, essential dance beats and sweeping melody. The shimmering piano notes evoke a thematic film soundtrack with vestiges of Lounge music and Kraut electronics.

It is perhaps that unlikely hybrid that most closely expresses the spontaneous feel of a composer who is drawn to the moment without worrying too much about the bigger picture*** (3/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra

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