A few tracks into "Romances," you'll probably find yourself asking the question: What movie is this from? With all that gothic ambience and sudden ups-and-downs, it sounds like the soundtrack from a surrealist vampire flick. As a result, it's a pleasant if unexceptional listen.
To some degree, it's what you'd expect of Fantomas frontman Mike Patton, when he collaborates with Norwegian melting-pot master Kaada. The opening song is a dense, built-up colossus of ghostly vocals (either high and creepy or deep and foreboding), weird synth and over-the-top organ. It sounds like Patton and Kaada are trying to scare you with the woo-woo effects.
That flavour sticks around in lesser forms in the songs that follow, which generally pair ambient effects, bells, steel guitar, electronic wibbling and some seriously sad songwriting. Patton is more restrained here than in his main band, and he is able to croon in a suitably mournful manner.
Despite the dark tone, there is some unexpected hilarity in "L'absent," which sounds like the Polyphonic Spree misplaced their meds. I've never heard "la la la" sung with such gloom. And "Pitie Pour Mes Larmes" mixes in hymns, uplifting pop with that ambient sound and some heavy crashing drums. Just try to classify that!
"Romances" is an interesting listen while it's actually on, but with at least half of each song made of gothic ambience, it feels somehow incomplete and insubstantial. A few songs have a solid sound to tap into -- such as the opening song "Invocations" -- but most of them meander with lots of creepy sound effects.
It is a pretty listen, though, with some solid instrumentation in the form of bass, steel guitar, drums, and clarinet, with multilayered washes of sound sweeping over it all. And Patton's mournful wails are suitably creepy, just the sort of thing you'd expect in a haunted castle, abandoned palace, decrepit opera house, or something of the sort.
"Romances" is not exactly a revelation, but it is a moderately entertaining piece of gothic ambient music. Patton and Kaada could have done better, but at least they did well enough.