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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Falling (Mats Gustafsson & Christof Kurzmann) - Prosperity (NEXT Festival Records, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Prosperity is the sophomore album of the Falling duo - Swedish reeds and live electronics player Mats Gustafsson and Viennese ppooll software magician Christof Kurzmann, following Falling and 5 Other Failings (Trost, 2016). The new album was recorded at the NEXT Festival in Bratislava, Slovakia in a dark, bluish space in December 2020. It is released as a limited edition vinyl plus a download option

Prosperity deepens the unsettling and experimental atmosphere of the debut album of the duo, and the description of Ken Vandermark (a close collaborator of both Gustafsson and Kurzmann) of that first album as “abstract hymns for the left as we are faced with the advance of the right” still fits perfectly. The restless Gustafsson and Kurzmann are still looking for compassionate and poetic ways of creating music that matters and would be relevant to the decaying state of our world and global politics.

Prosperity is divided into three “Prosperity” pieces. The first side of the album features the “First Prosperity” that begins with a quiet drone, articulated by Gustafsson’s flute and soprano sax playing and disturbed by Kurzmann’s rustle of vintage electronic sounds. Slowly the sonic envelope expands and intensifies with Gustafsson’s abstract live electronics and urgent, percussive sax sounds, still, with Kurzmann’s monotonous sounds. But mid-piece Kuirzmann begins to sing, in his unique poignant, and unassuming delivery, the lyrics about falling into “a frame of despair”, and a sense of failure. The raw electronics of Gustafsson and his bass sax quiet musings capture the melancholic and claustrophobic spirit of Prosperity.

The second side of the album employs similar patterns. “Second Prosperity” begins with an urgent and thorny electronics mayhem. with Gustafsson and Kurzmann making electronic noises. The sonic storm somehow settles when Gustafsson picks the flute and plays meditative, mournful lines. Kurzmann, as always, surprises with the choices of the lyrics that he adopts, and this time it is the sarcastic “The Song Of Investment Capital Overseas” of the British avant-rock band Art Bears’ (Chris Cutler, Fred Frith and Dagmar Krause, all former members of the legendary Henry Cow): “Out of town, my work takes me / Out of town / I empty villages / I burn their houses down / I set up factories / Lay out plantations / And bring prosperity to / The poorer nations…”, from Art Bears third album, The World As It Is Today, Rē Records, 1981). The situation of the world has worsened in the last four decades since Krause first sang this song, but its lyrics are still relevant as there is no real prosperity on the horizon. Falling turns this cover into a twisted ballad, empties the amused pathos of Krause and injects urgent yet sober realism into this song.

The last “Third Prosperity” begins with Gustafsson using his baritone sax to suggest contemplative and gentle musings, while Kurzmann offers fragile drone sounds, as the lighting setting brightens. Kurzmann surprises even more with the song he picked to cover, “Clandestino” of Spanish-French Singer Manu Chao (from his album Clandestino (Esperando La Ultima Ola...) / Bloody Border, Because Music, 2019), with Spanish and English lyrics that relate directly and simply to the refugees' crisis: “I cannot go forward / I cannot return / And the land in front don't want me / Look the land behind me burn / (Como una raya en el mar) // I am stranded on the sea / With an unknown destiny / (Como una raya en el mar) / No home to return to / Nobody waiting for me / (Como una raya en el mar)”. The quiet and touching reciting of the lyrics disregards the festive, rhythmic atmosphere of the original version. Kurzmann chose to color this song with disturbing and chaotic electronics (he also plays with rubber bands on his laptop and creates weird percussive effects) with Gustafsson’s fast extended breathing sounds, all intensifying the horrific experience described in this song.

Provocative and inspiring as ever.