Natural Snow Buildings is Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte, whose latest double LP The Centauri Agent showcases an impressive shift in approach to genre that makes this release their best since 2004’s The Dance of the Moon & Sun. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, this record is certainly a behemoth by casual standards. But at no point throughout it’s lengthy entirety do your senses feel overwhelmed. In fact, the album is shorter than some of their past releases, which does gives it an advantage in accessibility. Likewise, The Centauri Agent‘s length has allowed the band to place its musical talents in a more focused and concrete environment. Last year’s The Shadow Kingdom, while generally praised, fell victim to a thematic discontinuity, almost making it appear like a hodgepodge of tracks which floated around one another but never connected as a whole. The Centauri Agent resolves this issue by stepping outside of the pysch-folk schtick the band’s work has been cornered into lately, allowing them the opportunity to develop a sound that is uniquely their own.
As the title and cover art perhaps suggest, avoiding the realm of clichéd cosmic terminology to describe the sound of this record was a trial in itself – so bear with me here. Disc one opens with the sprawling 41-minute epic “Our Man from Centauri” which serves as a wonderful outline for the extraterrestrial landscape of the record. The track wavers off into “The Accidental Remote Viewer” before dissipating into infinite space. The combination and placement of these two tracks ingeniously unravels a transcendent journey from the fringes of Earth’s atmosphere towards that of the heavens. This odyssey is continued further on disc two with “Stuttering Probe” and “The Storm of Resurrection.” Surprisingly, the record boasts fewer folk-oriented songs than on previous efforts. Even tracks that retain some of those lyrical and acoustical elements succumb to a surrounding sonic blanket. The appropriately titled “Black Holes” mixes the two genres in a manner that leaves the listener with the impression that something both beautiful and destructive has taken place. “Memories found in a bill from a small animal vet” finally finds a Natural Snow Buildings album coming full-circle with a closing mediation on a minute physical remnant before the track decomposes into a silent emptiness.
It is these sort of subtle developments that make this release so defining for the French-duo. The Centauri Agent arrives at just the right moment in what has been one of the most consistently improving discographies in recent memory. In today’s musical environment where innovation and musical maturity are hard-pressed towards artists and their subsequent releases, Natural Snow Buildings’ evolution has never seemed contrived or forced. Excuse the pun, but their ability to naturally hone their craft since their 1999 full-blown drone debut Tracks on the Bloody Snow has enabled the two to become a bastion for how delicately such musical talent should be treated. It is fair to say that Ameziane and Gularte appear to ebb and flow between the elements they are comfortable with, but these styles have never combined so well as they have on The Centauri Agent. Feel free to call such an alternating routine somewhat self-indulgent, but this album reminds us of why truly independent music is so important and refreshing.