Superficial as it can be to judge an album by its artwork, the shimmer and shadow on the cover of Benoît Pioulard's first full-length (and Kranky debut), Précis, aptly depicts the music inside. Like the Enge EP, this is an album full of gorgeous dream pop crossed with laptop electronics (and sometimes, vice versa) that showcases Pioulard's sweet, somewhat drowsy vocals and versatile acoustic guitar playing. However, Précis goes far beyond the EP's scope, embellishing his music with sparkling yet subtle layers of percussion and sound effects that give these songs a dreamy depth. Roughly half of the album consists of delicately crafted songs that are accessible, but never predictable. Précis' melodies are just as creative, and even more memorable, than the textures around them: "Ext. Leslie Park" glides along on a beautifully melancholy, descending melody that's twinned in Pioulard's vocals and guitar, while the fantastic album closer, "Ash into the Sky," is lilting, seemingly effortless, and appropriately weightless. And, while "Triggering Back," "Sous la Plage," and "Together & Down" are all tightly structured songs, they never feel constrained; while they're undeniably catchy, they still have enough mystery and atmosphere to keep listeners guessing. The rest of Précis delves deeper into the abstract, atmospheric side of Pioulard's music, offering up interludes that sound like they were sculpted out of breezes. "Coup de Foudre" builds a vignette out of the static buzz of plugging in an electric guitar and layers on wind chime-like electronics and gentle noise; "Moth Wings" flutters by on echoing pianos; and "Corpus Chant" boasts a harpsichord and a sound effect that sounds like a ball rolling across the floor. These sketches are organic, restful, and integral to Précis, giving some breathing room between the more song-based tracks -- it would almost be too much if everything here was as powerful as the most accessible moments. Précis is a remarkably concise album -- over the course of 37 minutes, Pioulard covers an impressive range of sounds and feelings. More importantly, though, it's also a remarkably accomplished debut: hazy without disappearing into the background, immediately captivating but still full of things to discover on later listens.
Temper lives up to its name, balancing the cloudy beauty of Benoît Pioulard's music with more form and clarity and melding his folk, pop, and electronic leanings even more seamlessly. Where Précis seemed to drift from song to song depending on which way the wind blew, these songs move of their own volition: "Ragged Tint" opens Temper with shivery, rippling guitars that are much more urgent than any of Pioulard's earlier music. This nervy undercurrent pulls the album in unexpected directions, as when the chords of "Brown Bess" slide up steeply, turning the song from serene to tense. However, Pioulard's melodies are as gentle as ever, and would be lullingly lovely if there wasn't so much surrounding them. Temper's arrangements swirl, flutter, and sparkle like a just-shaken snow globe, setting off "Idyll" and "Ahn"'s crisp pop perfectly. These songs could have appeared just as easily on Précis as they do here, but other tracks move Pioulard's songwriting forward -- often by looking back: the lilting melody and prickly strumming of "A Woolgathering Exodus" have a chamber-folk cast, and "Modèle d'Éclat"'s massed harmonies and dense organ sound beautifully anachronistic. Temper expands on Pioulard's creative sonics as well: "The Loom Pedal"'s textural depth adds to its misty reverie, layering a rainstorm recording over distorted vocals and crystal-clear acoustic guitars. Pioulard is equally gifted at creating uniquely outdoorsy sound worlds as he is at crafting hook-filled songs; Précis' airy interludes were just as vital to the album as its more full-fledged tracks were. Temper has fewer of these pieces, but they're just as effective at giving Pioulard's densely constructed songs room to breathe. "Sweep Generator" and "Cycle Disparaissant" suggest vivid yet blurry images with their whorls of distortion and drones, while "Ardoise"'s watery chimes and chirping frogs are weathered with a patina of static. At times, Temper's focus means it doesn't have quite as much sweetly mysterious atmosphere as Pioulard's earlier work, but when the final track, "Hesperus," evaporates like waking from a dream, it's proof that there are plenty of moments to get lost in here.