Greg Davis and Sebastien Roux probably composed these songs sitting down; it's easy to imagine them hunched over laptops, sipping tepid black coffee as they add another sublime tone to a song with a single mouse-click. Given that the creative process behind Paquet Surprise
was likely an insular, closed-bedroom kind of affair, it's astounding that the disc seems to inhabit a natural world of spring afternoon field recordings, sundrop keyboard ebbs and insectoid glitches. The cover art serves as a nice visual analog, depicting a veritable rainbow of flora and fauna being loosed from a cardboard box.
"I Am Waiting (For December)" recalls another group whose eco-centric album art complements a sonic experience that's at once heavily processed and organic: Talk Talk. The songs' screeching cloudburst guitar solo bears a remarkable resemblance to the one-note epic at the center of "After the Flood", even down to the residual clicking. The guitar slides, wind chimes and recorder that bookend the solo strengthen the comparison, creating the strong sense of human presence that Mark Hollis valued so heavily.
Whereas Talk Talk albums are meticulously edited and strikingly spare, though, Paquet Surprise is preoccupied with filling empty space with vibrant environmental sound. Sometimes this tendency comes across as throat-clearing -- more judicious artists might have cut lulling setting-builders like "Sea Grass and Blues Seas" and the title track. The duo also allow some brilliant avant-pop songs to get lost in the foresty milieu. "To See a Wonderful World"'s first two segments glisten like ace Jim O'Rourke numbers. Clip-clopping toy percussion and autoharp bring the song to a boil, after which a distant but reassuring vocal melody wavers in the background; when a reverbed drone overcomes the voice, though, the tune unravels, ending in a barrage of blank blips and pops.
A few of the album's meditative sound-sculptures embrace the concept of a steady core. Aptly named centerpiece "Tidal Pool" spends most of its length contemplating a minimal swell of bass and acoustic guitar, generating refined ambience by retracing the same few steps ad infinitum. As much as Davis and Roux's naturalistic world threatens to choke out the sun with overgrowth, the sense of inertia and design present in "Tidal Pool" governs the bulk of the recording. This is no chilly wasteland run by maverick computers -- Paquet Surprise is a peaceable kingdom.