Alexandre Navarro is a guitarist and sound-maker based in Paris, France. Since 2004 he has amassed a discography of considerable depth, both under his full name and the moniker AN, for labels such as Sem, Dronarivm, and his own Disq AN. His latest, self-released album “Routes” is an album of endless departures and arrivals, of constantly finding oneself between places, between past and future, always on the way to somewhere else. It opens with sliding, fuzzy chords, like ocean waves or the passing of clouds, and little pops that at first made me think my audio setup was broken. ‘Data Monde’ introduces pitter-pattering rhythms and more sliding chords, but these are drifting icebergs with greater mass and momentum behind them. The sound of vehicles passing close by is effected using either field recordings of actual vehicles or white noise shaped to sound much like them, a motif that recurs several times across the album.
By the time third track ‘L’Etendue’ brings an echoing chordal pattern and more noise-waves in the background, the use of repetition has started to create a sense of steady travel. It’s not rigid or strictly regular repetition, however: the piece often tarries on a chord, taking a deep breath before plunging forward once more. Sand is blown by the wind on ‘Grand Espace’, before a massive ambient mountain range looms upwards from the land, dissolving back into sand at the end of the piece as if it had simply been a mirage. ‘Le Temps du rêve’ takes a scratchy, wobbly path through a very different place, a late-night trip through a poorly-lit industrial zone, threatening shapes looming out of the shadows.
The air is cleared by ‘Archipel Sauvage’, its soothing chords and easy concordance evoking blue skies and crystal-clear waters, though the low-key beats and pulses are choppy. The monotonal riff of ‘L’Autre Dimension’ is like a straight, flat road, lit by echoing guitar and swooshes of passing cars; the second, two-tone riff has more of a walking rhythm. The surging chords of ‘Déserteur’ break like low light over the hills, the echoing strummed guitar and uptempo beat winding down towards the end as the day begins to fade. The molten sunset chords of ‘A l’Ouest rien de nouveau’ are stalked by a distant fuzzy clattering that draws nearer, like darkness as night falls; the piece is tired but sleepless, impatient to get somewhere but never quite arriving.
The disorienting sound environment of an unfamiliar city, its strange chimes and rings, colours and smells, are evoked by the mutating, muscular beat and jangly guitar of ‘La Tangente’, turning familiar reference points askew. The contrast between the complex Ry Cooder-esque guitar work and slow, brassy-timbred three-chord pattern on final track ‘Toutes Directions’ sets the familiarity of home against that of the road — or rather, suggests the familiarity of being at home on the road. For me, “Routes” is an album of endless departures and arrivals, of constantly finding oneself between places, between past and future, always on the way to somewhere else. Navarro’s guitar, routed through numerous effects, creates a sound that is wide and immersive, while remaining rhythmically restless and on the move. It’s a musical journey of a subtle and poetic sort; a kind of travelling inside oneself, perhaps. It’s well worth the trip.