Though her career began with the samples- and loops-dominated Everyone Alive Wants Answers, the arc of Cécile Schott’s albums has gradually moved toward the acoustic, now culminating with The Weighing of the Heart, an album that, unlike her previous efforts, features the most acoustic instrument of all: the human voice. Not only does Schott’s breathy vocals resound through much of The Weighing of the Heart, but she sings real words, which on first blush marks a radical shift in her oeuvre. While her methodology remains largely the same (sounds are looped and folded onto and across one another), The Weighing of the Heart no longer traffics exclusively in the lonely sonorities of her previous albums, which, at their shoegazing apogees, crest toward the Kantian sublime. The grandness of such emotional landscapes tend to overshadow minute, intimate details, even bordering on inhuman.
Schott’s singing on The Weighing of the Heart instantly draws things back down to earth. This is evident from the first track, which boiled down to its essence, is a pop song replete with verses, choruses, and hooks. Of course, “Push the Boat Onto the Sand” is hardly radio material (Schott’s unadorned, whispery singing is too lethargic and tentative), nor is it singer-songwriter fare: For all the newfound intimacy and focus on songcraft, her sensitivity resides not with psychologized romance (her lyrics amount to a couple of lines repeated throughout the song), but with instrumental textures, and she treats her voice as just another layer in the mix.
Though the vocal melody on “Push the Boat Onto the Sand” falls flat, Schott’s singing has a tidal throb that signals a renewed emphasis on rhythm, which she deploys to better effect elsewhere on the album. In “Humming Fields,” for instance, echoing percussion weaves in and out to provide an earthy foundation that, strangely enough, creates an illusion of even deeper capaciousness than the depths achieved on her earlier, more ambient albums. Similarly, “Geometría Del Universo” features her now-familiar viol da gamba (an ancestor to the modern cello), but rather than the bowed solemnity that’s a signature of Les Ondes Silencieuses, Schott’s thick and voluptuous plucking style coaxes a syncopated pulse out of the instrument, breathing much-needed space into the typically tight mixes of her songs.
The added beats aren’t the only elements that add new color, as the widened arrangements prompt Schott to twist her songs in unexpected directions. “Moonlit Sky” begins with clarinet textures that intermittently ebb into continental hoedowns, but ultimately yields to a protracted passage where a solo organ soars toward monolithic grandeur. In fact, the sunny whimsy shining over the first half of The Weighing of the Heart gradually but unequivocally recedes over the course of the album. On the closing title track, a reverb-drenched acoustic guitar melts into a shivering cavalcade of strings before it all fades into a swirl of classicist violin virtuosity. For all of the new developments (major-key melodies and upbeat tempos and rhythms), Schott’s skill at fashioning held-breath drama remains undimmed, and if she takes another six years to release an album, it might be worth it to hold your breath.