HIDDEN GEMS Bérangère Maximin’s “Frozen Refrains” is Icy Ambient at Its Finest By Jesse Locke · April 27, 2020

Bérangère Maximin is a Parisian electroacoustic artist whose textural sonic experiments have earned the young composer acclaim throughout her career. Her lauded 2012 album No One Is An Island featured collaborations with distinguished avant-garde guitarists such as Christian Fennesz, Richard Pinhas, and Rhys Chatham. But for all of the attention she’s received from both critics and fellow musicians, Maximin’s stunning 2017 release Frozen Refrains remains criminally overlooked. The album is just one of three titles released by Atlas Realisations, a UK-based imprint helmed by producer Craig Leon, best known for early work with Suicide, Blondie, and The Ramones, as well as Leon’s own music. Perhaps the album’s lack of coverage has something to do with the label’s lack of distribution in North America. Regardless, Frozen Refrains remains an album worth revisiting.

The album’s chilling experimental electronic sound is permeated by an eerie sense of calm—an element that’s always been present in Maximin’s mostly wordless music. Near the end of the album’s third song, “Wax Melody,” a disembodied voice emerges from the swirling ambience like a siren’s song in a haze of fog. The two pieces that follow are anchored by a dub-like bass heartbeat, which softly thumps beneath squelching instrumental sound collages. Yet the softness of her instrumental sound is periodically interrupted by the sound of the human voice; on “Les Boucles Rebelles,” the sound of accented whispering, counting, and coughing, feels like a kind of abstracted ASMR. Closing track “Elpis” is Frozen Refrains’s most melody-forward composition—it wouldn’t sound out of place on a horror film soundtrack by Mica Levi or Mark Snow. Its weblike synth arpeggios encase the listener in a soft cocoon of familiar sounds, providing a stark contrast to the creeping subtlety of the previous six tracks. Accompanied by harsh buzzing like a modem gone haywire, “Elpis” swells into an alien intensity before once again sinking below the icy surface.

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