Classical music has its place in my personal listening diet. As an avid fan of composers such as Stravinsky, Varèse, Schoenberg, Reich, Bartok, Bach, and the like, I often find myself listening to snippets of longer pieces when at a loss for any other listening. Add on top of that a full embracing of the amazing skills of Nico Muhly by the indie community (and Bedroom Community), and it would seem like classical could be viewed as something pan-generational, a genre no longer typified as the stuff of codgers and spinsters. Now, I'm not going to compare today's subject, a one Dustin O'Halloran, to Muhly on any personal level since I don't know much about him. I will judge him, though, against his stylistic peers and stylistic indicators, the way it's supposed to be done for the genre. By all means, his latest/sophomore effort Lumiere might actually be pretty enjoyable along the journey.

Well, this seems like I've already heard it. 'A Great Divide' opens with sounds that recall Stars Of The Lid, Grizzly Bear's 'Marla' and 'Lullaby,' and even Eno's 1/2. However, by the time the strings drop what we have here is something even more outré to reference: Venetian Snares. Yes, the orchestral backing (or, rather, string section) recalls the lengthier moments of Vsnares' My Downfall but minus the knowledge that a glitched out section will drop and remove the monotone. It's not that what we have is bad, it's just very "tired" sounding by comparison to how similar it already sounds; lugubrious in its largo, content to float on like some globule of ectoplasm, the opening track moves, but only in stagnating periods. 'Opus 44' is far more promising in its gentle piano meditations in the vein of Satie's more lyrical works mixed in with a healthy dose of Beethoven's sense of movement (you folks out there who, like I, have viewed manuscripts know what I mean). O'Halloran even manages to use a theme here that is just the right amount of touching and gentle to allow his gentle left hand feel dictate the changes without being intrusive. In the face of 'A Great Divide,' 'Opus 44' already speaks volumes more in terms of original content than near-hackneyed ambient forages. Now, pardon me for doing this the long way (track by track) but each track here must be visited as it would be a disservice to the album to just cherry pick moments. Even in the best works there are moments of slight disappointment, section changes that leave you longing for instance, that must be noted, thus I continue.

'We Move Lightly' blends the string feel with the piano side of the affair thus far, and amalgamates itself into a somewhat enjoyable take on 'Opening' and 'Closing' by Philip Glass mixed in with a bit of the score from Donnie Darko, a pleasant affair only somewhat marred by the almost-MIDI sounding strings (oh how I wish they weren't so tonally flat and instead over-syrupy in this case). While O'Halloran's use of an ostinato is in proper form and impressively driving for how familiar it sounds, the over simplified string part that mostly consists of half note chord saws leaves some to be desired. Even a single bar made of eighth notes would have moved the entire piece enough to justify the repetition therein. 'Quartet No. 2' is more firmly rooted in chamber music ideals, each string part playing off the next in a manner akin to a half-speed madrigal around the 1:45 mark. While his ear for melody remains in tact, the harmonic shifts are what make this work such a success, and a pitifully paltry one in terms of length at that. Dustin O'Halloran saw it fit to only make this gorgeous and melancholic piece 3:13 when a full fleshing out with multiple sections could have seen so much more. I can at least hope that he'll extend this work in the future. 'Opus 43' plays with tempo shifts and better organization of strings, inasmuch as techniques like tremolo are used here and add to the effect of the entire opus in a major way. Almost a new version of the forest theme from Chrono Trigger, 'Opus 43' joins the ranks as showing promise for this composer yet.

Moving on, 'Quintet No. 1' is a rather well played and strong enough piece to spawn an entire side collection of collected string quartets and quintets. The cello weeps, doleful, at all the right moments to really nail the emotional atmosphere that is being created here. Even the piano part successfully continues the relay race all forth by the string A section. By the time the quartet enters again, they serve their part as reinforcement and a new melodic section all too well, even when it drops into the almost Days Of Our Lives descending closing part. 'Fragile No. 4' almost returns to the pseudo-ambient leanings of 'The Great Divide,' but instead moves on like the backing to an indie film collage showing what happens to the couple at the end of the movie. It's almost made for this purpose, a track that is vaguely saccharine yet with some sense of substance thanks to the all too brief harpsichord double of the main "theme" (for lack of a better term). To be brief, 'Opus 55'continues the trend of O'Halloran's opuses being his strongest pieces, always hitting on point. And to round things out, 'Snow And Light' serves its purpose as a closer quite well. While the droning bass does get a bit tiring, by the time the strings enter we have a well-rounded sonic counterpart to the title. As gentle and, dare I say it, moving as the song gets, it never goes into a cliched version of the 'sad closing songâ' or the pitfall of a lame duck bookending of styles.

Now comes the obligatory "comparison to other artists" part of this review, a move I must undertake to justify my references earlier. O'Halloran's ear and sensibility places him as a neoclassicist in practice, as seen by what sounds like an admiration of the typical "masters" as well as composers such as Bartok, Elgar, Glass, and the like. At best, his relation to Muhly is the period in which he is releasing this, his adherence to procedure in a purer sense marks him as different in the face of Muhly's embrace of technology and electronic experimentation (see his LP Mothertongue, a fascinating exploration overall). And there lies the trouble I have with this album, a decided lack of experimentation as hinted at with the first track. As much as the first track droned on, it at least gave some semblance of a promise for a further exploration or embracing of a slight experimental edge. I had no expectations of, say, Stars Of The Lid level ambience (god how I want a new album from them) or even Discreet Music II, but the promising balance of reverbed washes and forcefully bereft strings with O'Halloran's measured piano. Instead it's another classical affair, not a bad one, per se, but a very tepid one given the mere sound of the first track. Maybe I'm just the kind of person who wants consistency or some sense of real theme to a modern classical album rather than a collection that seems almost scattershot. What keeps me from really getting into this is not so much the sound or composition, a mostly enjoyable affair that could work beautifully as a score, harkening to some sonic territory almost Cale-like at times, but rather the tracklist and sequencing. It's a shame to boil it down to that, but there are times when a bad track order can be as detrimental as bad mastering or songwriting. Even as scattered as some of the Reich collections I've purchased over the years are, they (and many other CDs and records by classical artists) all feel coherent and rounded due to some overarching theme or feel, be it the mood of the pieces or the entire sound of the disc. As promising as the works make O'Halloran sound, I find myself unable to fully embrace this disc, as triste as it may make me.