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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fennesz - Bécs (Editions Mego, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

”Sitting quietly in never-never land, I am listening to summer fleas jump off my small female cat on to the polished wood floor. Outside starlings are squabbling in the fig tree and from behind me I can hear swifts wheeling over rooftops. (…) The ambient hum of night air and low frequency motor vehicle drone merges with insect hum. (…) These sounds reconnect me to a world from which I had disengaged. Sound places us in the real universe.” David Toop wrote this in the first chapter of “Ocean of Sound” and Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz’s new album turns these words into music.

“Bécs” (pronounced “baeetch”) is Hungarian for Vienna and it is the first full length Fennesz solo release since 2008’s “Black Sea” and his first on the Mego label since 2001’s “Endless Summer” (his reference to the Beach Boys). Like the latter one “Bécs” focuses more on the pop pole of the Fennesz universe, although the opposite pole, a combination of harsh rock explorations and dark drones, always lurks in the background. Fennesz swings to and fro between these poles trying to create an ideal trans- and posthuman world (as German critic Diedrich Diederichsen put it), the result is an album full of grandeur and obfuscated pathos.

Perfect examples are “Static Kings”, where Fennesz is augmented by Polwechsel’s Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Brandlmayr who fire electric grit on Fennesz’s aural sculptures, whose guitar succeeds in rising like a phoenix from this noise and underlying bass drones, and the central track “Liminality” (with Tony Buck on drums), a typical 10-minute Fennesz piece which reminds of Mogwai with its exuberant guitar strumming, its epic structure, and evocative majesty. The track displays an emotional impact which can almost drive you to tears, you are tempted to add a vocal audio track to it. The third outstanding example is the title track, which comes closest to contemporary rock on the one hand, but which is also the perfect personification of Fennesz’s musical spectrum: a style combining the greatest traditions of pop, electronica, free jazz and improv, with the doctrines of techno and new classical music.

Finally, this album also works as a sound collage for modern Vienna – however, not for the postcard kitsch of Hofburg, Schönbrunn Castle and Albertina but for the one of the outskirts and their dehumanized housing complexes and the arterial roads with their refineries and factories (the one depicted in the films by Ulrich Seidl), it reminds of Walter Ruttmann’s legendary documentary “Berlin – Sinfonie einer Großstadt” (1927) - just with Vienna being in the focus.

So - sitting quietly on my sofa, I am listening to bits of electronic drizzle pouring out of my speakers. “Bécs” makes me listen to shivering melodies, noise textures that seem to bury beautiful details, background hook lines flying by. The ambient hum of low frequency drones merges with 1980s synthesizer sounds which reconnect me to a world from which I had almost disengaged – the music of David Sylvian and Japan, of Ryuichi Sakamoto and his Yellow Magic Orchestra, of 1970s prog rock, of Glenn Branca’s “Symphony for 100 Guitars” – it’s the soundtrack of my life. “Bécs” places me in this universe, which is absolutely real to me.

“Bécs” is available on vinyl, CD and as a download.

You can buy the album on the Editions Mego website where you can also listen to “Static Kings” and “Liar”: