For Mozart, night music was the sound of liberated excitement, a transposition of an anticipation that gets more intense as the sun sets, and even a little of it evoked a full picture of the magic of the evening. Etienne Jaumet finds something a little more unsettling in the darkness, and his evocation of nighttime feels like a countervailing interpretation, all dire noises and eerily twisted shadows. Late of the profoundly silly Zombie Zombie, the French multi-instrumentalist creates a sure and solid rhythm on his first solo album.
Night Music opens with “For Falling Asleep,” which sounds like it’s meant for anything but falling asleep; it’s a 20-minute nightmare that variegates from soothing to creepily unhinged, with an emphasis on the latter. Tinged with free-jazz cues and electronic flourishes, the song is a careful exposition of creeping dread, darting from one disconcerting set piece to another. A motif of female voices, babbling at the edge of the mix, adds a singularly chilling cap to an already off-kilter track. This all gives way to a peaceful pastoral acoustic outro, which in turn is swallowed up by crashing waves of sound.
This kind of back-and-forth reversal, from harmless to eerie and back, typifies the allure of Night Music. At heart, these are commonplace songs, from the pulsing dance groove of “Entropy” to the string buildup of “Through the Strata” that, via a slow, patient process, take on a sinister new mood. The trilling, creepy orchestration of “Strata,” which splits itself between melodic noise and anthemic classical, is a great example of Jaumet’s commanding use of sound. The strings become so warped and manipulated, layered with quavering flange effects, that they sound at one moment like bagpipes and another like slinky Middle Eastern horns, a shape-shifting quality that reverberates for nearly 10 minutes. Bathed in cloaking shadows, Night Music captures the macabre power of darkness, where ordinary shadows are stretched into ominous significance.