Set before a royal blue backdrop, a pale orange sun with a cute, beaming face smiles over the city of Solna in South East Sweden.
The coat of arms for the municipality just north of Stockholm is particularly charming, if not cheeky, and is almost reminiscent of late twentieth-century psychedelic iconography, a kind of majestic cousin to The Smiling Sun of the late Seventies anti-nuclear movements.
It seems an appropriate badge of honour for the place where, after ditching two years worth of work with ex-partner Kevin Parker, French psych-pop queen Melody Prochet decided to lay down her hat for a fresh start and a place to record her second record as Melody’s Echo Chamber.
The self-titled 2012 debut was an astounding introduction to Prochet’s solo work, filled with hits soaked in trendy dream-pop nostalgia, but with enough punch in their production and, appropriately, melodies to set them apart from an ever-growing cloud of contemporaries.
The announcement of Melody’s Echo Chamber’s long-awaited successor in April 2017 on her 30th birthday was, however, bittersweet. Shortly after came another announcement that Prochet had suffered an unspecified “serious accident” that left her hospitalised with brain aneurysm and broken vertebrae.
But though naturally traumatic, the physical pain caused by the accident played only a counterpart to an emotionally painful and disorientating few years that had followed the release of her debut. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Prochet describes in her characteristically poetic way the last few years as a difficult journey “through my own personal desert of heartaches, thirst, mirages, moving sands, disillusionment, and of becoming an adult woman in a mad world”.
Given the hindrances through which the arrival of the second record persevered then, its title Bon Voyage seems something of a misnomer. Indeed, though the record is a trip coloured with lush, multilingual and psychedelic brilliance—a place flourished with enchanted forests where murmurs of mermaids and angels dancing can be heard amidst falling snow—it is also from its beginning fragmented with nightmarish turbulence, a home too of vampires, heartbreak, hallucination and chaos.
Perhaps that's the point though. The best journeys are divided by conflict and resolve, the path between them a journey in itself; after all, there’s a reason tales of voyages and odysseys have occupied the minds of storytellers since we learned to communicate, from the narratives of epic poetry to the stories of braggadocio and salvation of grime. Writing and recording in the woods of Solna with members of Dungen and The Amazing, stalwarts of the Swedish psych and indie scenes, Prochet sought to create “a kind of modern fairytale full of duality: beautiful and disenchanted, happy and painful, internal and external, childish and mature, but also violent and measured.”
The result is jarring. Opener “Cross My Heart” begins with all the tropes of a Melody classic you might expect—a twelve-string guitar, a rock shuffle beat, sweeping, soulful strings and harp arpeggios—before dropping into a mesh of breakbeats, crabbed vocal samples and jazz flutes that just about makes sense. The Middle Eastern-inspired “Desert Horse” is by far the record’s most cacaphonic and mind-melting offering though, aggressive one moment (“Burning sand motherfucker! / Dunes of sand fuck you”), hopeless the next (“There is so much blood / On my hands / And not much left to destroy / I know I am better alone”). It’s certainly raw and guttural, in a way that seems to mock the listenability of the first record, but sometimes veers awkwardly too far in the opposite direction.
It does give what’s left of the record a soothing effect, particularly for “Quand Les Larmed D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige” (When Angel’s Tears Make The Snow Dance), a gorgeous acoustic guitar-led song with great pacing and verve; Prochet relearnt to play the drums for the record, and there’s such an enthusiastic energy from her playing here that you can practically hear her smiling as she nails the perfect take. Despite a frankly bizarre spoken word section from Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook in which he asserts he wants to shit all over himself when he dies, the song depicts “A safe place to hide / Someone to be held by”, and playing at her most direct in the whole album, we begin to to understand that this place is found amidst the exaltation of making music.
The album’s shortcoming though is that, given that it has committed so strongly to depict the ruthlessness and immediacy of chaos in its first half, the sense of resolve here amongst the Angel's tears is not developed much further. If it then spiralled back from whence it came, perhaps this might work, but what actually follows are Bon Voyage’s two most accessible songs, tracks with groove and smooth textures that might have felt at home on the debut. It makes the arc of the record as a whole unclear, or truncated at best.
The journey is far from over for Prochet, though. Albeit often abrasive, confounding and intentionally inconsistent in a way that spurns the breezy lustre of its predecessor, Bon Voyage is an honest coup d’œil into the psyche and the many stories it has to tell.