Make no mistake: ever since Mute became home to his studio albums, monsieur Tiersen has had quite the strike rate.
Dust Lane (2010), Skyline (2011), and Infinity (2014) are all richly textured, full-band affairs; grand gestures whose point of focus always seems exterior rather than interior. Nevertheless: almost twenty (?!) years after the fact, the version of this musical polyglot with which many listeners identify remains the Yann Tiersen who crafted the likes of Rue des cascades (1996) and Le phare (1998). This was music stripped back to bare necessities, melodic and innocent—naïve, almost—with more than a touch of francité about it. ‘Limitation breeds creativity’, or so they say. Perhaps a few stiff accordion keys and a piano that couldn’t quite stay in tune were the shackles that gave rise to the wide-eyed fragility of Tiersen’s early records.
This is all a round-about way of saying: new record EUSA, written entirely for solo piano, forces Tiersen back to basics, and the results are spellbinding. As ever, Tiersen finds his muse in the geography of Brittany, each piece referring either to a specific location on the island of Ushant upon which he lives (literally: ‘Eusa’ in the local tongue), or functioning to connect them ("Hent"—literally meaning: ‘path’—nos. I–VIII).
Tiersen’s piano writing is delicate—almost quite balletic, in a way ("Penn ar Roc’h", "Penn ar Lann")—but always, always quietly evocative (especially so on the more abstract "Hent" pieces). Of course, things have changed since the early years: EUSA was recorded on a Steinway in the middle of Abbey Road’s Studio 1, for one thing. But the musician at the centre of it all, we quickly realise, is the same. The tone and the simplicity and the subtle melancholy of these eighteen miniature pieces make EUSA the most charming Tiersen release in some time.