Christopher Porpora has been described as a poet as well as a musician, and he published two books of poetry before he ever released any music. As Cheval Sombre, he has dabbled with a folk-tinged brand of gentle psychedelia since 2000, although Mad Love is only his second full length album.
Although Porpora is the main person behind the name, this definitely isn't a one-man show. One of the first people to encourage his musical development was Sonic Boom aka Pete Kember formerly of Spacemen 3 - a band whose influence on Cheval Sombre is very clear.
Mad Love has been co-produced by Sonic Boom at MGMT's studio space in Brooklyn, and Sonic plus Andrew and Ben from MGMT also play on the album, along with Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, another couple who have helped Porpora in the past. From these names, you probably have an idea of what Mad Love sounds like, and I have to admit that the delicate melodies here certainly evoke Spacemen 3 and Wareham's Galaxie 500 and Luna. Thankfully it does have enough to distinguish it in its own right, and in particular, Porpora's constantly whisper-quiet vocal delivery is actually quite arresting.
The instrumentation is pretty minimal from the start, with a high-pitched organ and acoustic guitar setting the mood on 'Someplace Else' before other guitars and electronic sounds creep into the mix with some skill and subtlety.
Some reviewers have suggested Cheval Sombre's previous, self-titled album sits somewhere between Spacemen 3 and Nick Drake, but I actually think the vocal delivery and overall mood is comparable to someone like Laurence from Felt. In fact the delicate but brilliantly arranged 'She Went Walking in the Rain' underlines this. The way the guitars flutter and drift around in the background prove that this is also much more than just a second-wave of shoegaze record.
The folk-tinged aspect I mentioned comes fully to the fore on their version of the old Appalachian folk song, 'Once I Had a Sweetheart'; a tune made famous by the likes of Joan Baez and Pentangle, which here is given an extra dreamy, almost ghostly quality.
This feel continues with 'Walking in the Desert' which again has that Spacemen-esque feel complete with minimal bass and high pitched organ, an aspect of their sound that peaks with the excellent 'February Blues' where they actually drift through those blues at a snail's pace.
Some of the other pieces have washed past me after several plays, but the epic central track, 'Couldn't Do' is hard to ignore. Over its nine-minute duration it builds from a sweeping phasey underscore, with simple acoustic guitar and a trance-like repetitive refrain into something genuinely unusual and psychedelic.
By contrast, the straightforward acoustic strum 'I Fell In Love' manages to cram almost as much into its two minutes, as it is embellished with great organic sounding electronics and a mournful violin.
My initial impressions of Mad Love were that it was so in thrall to Spacemen 3 that it wouldn't merit repeated listens, but I'm happy to report that it actually takes those influences as a template and creates something of their own on top of them. There is plenty for fans of this type of music to investigate here.