- How to wring optimism from tragedy? How to go about day-to-day life in the wake of senseless violence? These are the questions Colleen, real name Cécile Schott, grapples with on her sixth album. The first track on A Flame My Love, A Frequency is called "November," the month Schott visited an ailing relative in France and stopped off for a night in her former home, Paris, to drop off her viola bow for repair. She walked in the sunshine and had dinner with friends. Then came the deadly attacks on cafés, restaurants and the Bataclan. "For the next months, all I could think about—especially at night—was death," she recalled. "My own death, the death of people I love, the death of complete strangers. A couple of weeks after the events, though, I managed to shake myself out of inaction and started working on the record."
Fate and the passing of time have always played a part in Schott's work. There are two chapters to her career thus far. The Leaf Records years—2003 through 2007—when she released three acclaimed albums, and a mid-'10s comeback era. In between she experienced a six-year creative block. "The big difference now," she said upon the release of her 2015 LP, Captain Of None, "is that I get this sense that my time is limited... I'm not sure how many albums I have within me, and I realize that I don't have any time to waste." The brush with tragedy that inspired A Flame My Love, A Frequency likely brought this urge into sharper focus, and it's resulted in Colleen's most immediate and affecting LP to date.
Schott has always been quick to change her approach. On her debut, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, she raided Parisian music libraries for samples. Later, Schott, trained as a guitarist, became associated with the viola da gamba. After her time off, she started singing. In the lead-up to A Flame My Love, A Frequency, she stumbled across a Critter & Guitari pocket piano in King Britt's Philadelphia studio. She ordered one immediately and planned on using it to accompany her viola. When that wasn't working, she ordered a larger Critter & Guitari model, the Septavox, and recorded the entirety of her new LP with those two synths, Moog delay and filter pedals, and her voice.
Schott plays these keyboards as though she designed them herself. At times the arrangements deftly mirror her plaintive, naturalistic vocals. On "Separating," she sings of death—"Separating from the world / Is like a drop of rain / Falling to the ocean floor"—as the synth burbles in the deep. On "The Stars Vs Creatures," she begins by singing, "the stars will have the last word / And outshine us," before mirroring that twinkling expanse on her minimal setup. The vocals, delivered softly, still manage to hit like a sledgehammer, in part due to their infrequency.
The instrumentals on A Flame My Love, A Frequency are equally compelling. On "Another World," she coaxes a kick drum-like figure out of her synths and pedals, then hammers pensive, arpeggiated chords for six minutes, evincing a hopeful futurism. "One Warm Spark" conjures the bliss that's made Kompakt's Pop Ambient series such an enduring institution. But on the closing title track, she toggles off the arpeggiator and reduces the synth to a simple organ drone, a la Nico's Desertshore. A mournful refrain—"I will call you / When the sun has reached the final hour"—rings out, and the album fades on dolorous chords.
03. Another World
04. Winter Dawn
05. Summer Night (Bat Song)
06. The Stars Vs Creatures
07. One Warm Spark
08. A Flame My Love, A Frequency