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October 8th, 2008 NILINA MASON-CAMPBELL | Music Stories
 

Benoît Pioulard

Thomas Meluch doesn’t get out much—his music speaks volumes.

     
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[TENDER NOISE-FOLK] Flipping through the influential XLR8R magazine’s recent all-Portland issue, it seems as if each page bears a face familiar to local music die-hards. But Benoît Pioulard—the boyish-faced man with ruddy cheeks on page 35—is a musician decidedly less recognizable than the rest.

A quick listen to Pioulard’s rich, textured experimental folk tunes—set alight by found sounds, lo-fi guitar and a low, echo-soaked voice—and one wonders how his name has escaped this city’s marquees. But 24-year-old Thomas Meluch, the man who records under that glaringly French nom de guerre, estimates he’s only played 16 shows in the past five years.

It’s not because he doesn’t speak the language. Meluch is a transplant from Michigan, not France, though his mother taught him French as a boy. In the woods behind his childhood home, he first began recording himself “hitting trees with sticks” alongside bird calls, later embellishing the sounds with electric guitar and drums. It wasn’t until age 19, when handing some recordings off to a friend, that he became Benoît Pioulard, a name he’d preserved from a dream and scrawled in his bedside notebook.

Temper, his latest offering and second full-length for seminal Chicago label Kranky (where he’s labelmates with local experimental mainstays White Rainbow, Valet and Strategy), was recorded over the course of a year—interrupted by his move from the Wolverine state to the Rose City in 2007 (after finding PDX on a road-trip visit). Its 16 tracks are tangles of delicate guitar filtered through cassette recorders and fortified with ambient, white-noise field recordings—his often indecipherable, multi-tracked vocals serving more as a melodic tool than for purposes of narration. His music—like rain on a windowpane—encourages hibernation.

“[Playing shows] has been crossing my mind a little more frequently lately,” Meluch admits. But for him, the live realm—with significantly less effects-pedal and more room for vocal error—always “takes a back seat to recording.” And that’s not the worst thing in the world: Meluch’s level of reclusion may be at odds with a growing Portland scene, but that only makes him a rarer bird.

 
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