Back in October we had the pleasure of premiering In The Midst Of Chaos There Is Stillness, the debut album from Norwegian post-rock newcomers Fleur De Lis. If you haven’t given it a listen yet, you can consider this review a long-winded way of me telling you that you really ought to. It’s rather good.
More specifically, it’s one of the most peaceful listening experiences I’ve ever encountered. Not in a superficial chill-out, “easy listening” kind of way, but in a way that’s deeper and a lot harder to achieve. Every note, every silence, every line seems drawn from a deep-seated sense of contentment and knowledge that everything is as it should be. Listening to this album produces almost Zen levels of bliss and calm, as if while it’s playing the rest of the world and all its troubles don’t really matter. And yet In The Midst Of Chaos There Is Stillness is aptly named. It has stillness by the bucketload, but it’s brimming with concealed energy and Fleir De Lis have allowed just enough of the chaos to seep in-particularly into the middle section of the album- to keep the music dynamic and engaging. A bit more bite would’ve perhaps made the album easier to connect to and a bit less distant, but the band’s mastery of the moods and atmospheres they inhabit and their subtle, inventive musicianship ensured that by the third or fourth listen this album was firmly placed in my top tier of new music in 2015.
‘Abide’ starts the album with an impossibly gorgeous, lullaby-like guitar pattern over which shimmering, Pink Floyd style effects float and swell. Fleur De Lis’ music spends a lot of time at this level- one or two guitars gently plucking out delicate, interweaving lines, providing their own rhythm and melody without drums or vocals- and they do it really, really well. The guitar tone is absolutely exquisite- clear, ringing and acute as crystal in the major key and achingly poignant in the minor. In a way it actually reminded me a lot of Jeff Buckley’s style of playing, and Eivind Frustøl’s wispy vocals likewise called to mind Buckley’s emotive croon, tempered with a bit of Jónsi’s childish wonder and a vulnerability akin to Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue. It all adds up to truly inspiring levels of serenity, but when they ramp up the intensity Fleir De Lis sounds equally good. Three minutes in ‘Abide’ pauses as though taking a deep breath before enveloping you in a rush of echoey guitar and vocals as if sweeping you up to heaven, a lovely celebratory guitar riff twisting around the pillars of sound like a dancer. The song builds and falls in all the right ways you’d want a post rock song to, but even at its biggest there’s not a hint of danger or menace to it- this is the sound of happiness welling up inside until you can help but jump up and dance for joy. ‘More Than Me’ starts with a similarly soft guitar intro, accompanied by jazzy, lilting bass and the most vocal-heavy segment of the album. As the song develops it highlights the band’s knack for subtle shifts in rhythm and feel, building from a low-key verse into an extended instrumental featuring some more great interplay between the guitars.
It’s the third and fourth songs where the “chaos” side of the title is felt the strongest. ‘Mal De Mer’ opens with the only moment of full-on aggression to be found on the album as crashing guitars and cymbals attempt to drown out a Mogwai inspired piano melody, before dropping away to eerie tremolo guitar lines and re-forming into a sinister shuffling rhythm complete with marching snare drum and gurgling bass. The brooding, ominous intro to ‘Come With Me’ reminded more than anything of the Deafheaven track ‘Vertigo’, which was likewise a nice contrast to the rest of the album, and the transition into the uplifting final section is breathtaking. The remaining three tracks settle back into the warm, tranquil feel that opened the album. There’s barely a misstep in the entire set, but the comforting piano passages of ‘For the Weary’ and the haunting vocals on ‘Rome’ are particularly enjoyable.
Putting the most unsettling tracks at the centre of the album might seem to be the opposite of what the title suggests, but the point is that real stillness- true peace- is irrespective of what’s going on around you. It’s something you can carry with you, even into the most chaotic storms. Fleur De Lis looks for stillness in a noisy world by creating music that’s so uncommonly beautiful it strives towards spirituality, and their lyrics point to an even more specific source of inspiration. Allusions to Jesus calming the sea in ‘Abide’ and the repeated refrain of ‘It’s you I long for’ in ‘Blaa’ speak of finding peace and fulfilment through connection to something (someone) greater than yourself and through faith in a bigger plan for your life. Whether you get your sense of meaning from God, music, relationships, ‘shrooms, or whatever, I hope In The Midst of Chaos There is Stillness resonates with you in a deeper way than simply being a very good post rock album, and that it helps you find a moment of calm in the storm. I think it will.