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Friday, December 1, 2023

Rupp/Kneer/Fischerlehner - Puna (Klanggalerie, 2023)

By Martin Schray

When you have a well-established outfit like Olaf Rupp (guitar) and Rudi Fischerlehner (drums, percussion) with XENOFOX and you add a new voice to it (in this case Meinrad Kneer on bass), it’s always a question of whether you call it a real new trio or whether it’s just an extension of the old format. The three musicians have decided to treat it as new, because on the one hand, “it’s just a fact that with a new musician there’s always a new composer, a new personality, a new chemistry. Everything is always different somehow“, as Olaf Rupp puts it. On the other hand,“there’s not that much difference because a lot of what Rudi and I have worked on remains the same“, he explains. This is actually good news, since especially XENOFOX’s latest album The Garden Was Empty (audiosemantics, 2023) and the 2020 EP, Maconda (also on audiosemantics), presented outstanding music.

Luckily, Puna makes it clear from the very first notes that Meinrad Kneer is able to supply Rupp’s and Fischerlehner’s already elaborated style with a very interesting timbre. For example, he often challenges Rupp’s harmonics and trills with his pizzicato lines, which he likes to play in the very high registers. The bass thus becomes an additional melody instrument, refusing any rhythmic work and acting like a kind of songbird hovering over the musical landscape, that Fischerlehner structures with bumpy rhythms. This musical landscape, especially in the opener “Puna 1“, is like an echo of wacky alternative rock bands such as Tortoise or Sonic Youth, because Rupp repeatedly intersperses the improvisation with open guitar chords. Beyond that, he uses his typical creative means: Flamenco chords, thunderstorms of sound, feedback orgies, staccato passages, movement clusters, spectralistic sound fields - the whole Rupp arsenal we’ve known and loved.

One can describe his agglomerated sound as a mixture of the styles of Derek Bailey and Glenn Branca. Coming back to the bass, it’s not as if Kneer remains in pizzicato mode the whole time, and if you expect that as soon as he starts plucking the music would fall back into a pumping and grooving pattern, you’re wrong. Kneer’s contributions remain in the leading melodic section, turning the classic alt-rock outfit on its head, because in these passages Fischerlehner also becomes less interested in rhythmic support and starts bringing in more sound-exploring elements. In the end, the landscape has transformed into a machine and stomps forward, the contemplative moment has become a dynamic one.

Quite often the pieces implode - like “Puna 3“, for example - but before this happens they are mostly preceded by extensively improvised avant-jazz-rock passages that jerk and rattle so hard that they sound like acoustic fracking, which is very often due to Fischerlehner’s drumming. At the very end of the album, on the fourth track, which otherwise concentrates more on rhythm than the ones before, the musical spectrum even opens up a little towards soundscapes, so that the trio even reminds me a little of GodSpeedYouBlackEmperor.

Puna is a consistently excellent album because it exemplifies the musical and aesthetic aspirations of the three musicians, combining beauty and monstrosity. You have to imagine it as a very beautiful noise form. But the beauty is not easy to find, it is hidden between harmony and turmoil, structure and disorder. However, if you look beyond the dissonance and the feedback, the scratching and shuffling, you will be rewarded with a glorious fever dream, a huge friendly sound monster. Definitely in my top ten this year.

Puna is available as a CD and a download.

You can listen to it and buy it here: