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Fennesz - Black Sea


If there’s a pin-up star for the emerging noise scene, then the sculpted looks of Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz fit the bill. Since his last LP Venice in 2004, he’s been busy working with all and sundry, including the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, and as such Black Sea arrives with a feeling of pregnant expectation.

Like his previous material, Fennesz uses a laptop to process his guitar work, often leaving nothing more than a penumbra of melody around a forceful sound. However, this new album seems to continue where Venice left off, with him applying a distant and thoughtful feeling to his music, which contrasts strongly against the power and innovation that marks his most distinct album, Endless Summer.

The album itself kicks off with the title track from the album, forceful musique concrete noise mutating into silence and the trademark soaring ambience that he does so well, counterpointed by the odd strum of an acoustic-sounding guitar, and slowly over 9 minutes the little tics of melody dissolve into an ethereal hum. “Colour of Three” is more aggressive sounding, slabs of melody being puntuacted by expressive thumps, and “Perfume for Winter” harks back to the golden feel of “Caecilia” with some gorgeous guitar work ghosting around an axis of fizzing noise. If there’s a trend or theme to this album, I suspect it’s more to do with the type of guitar he’s using, which at most points sounds acoustic. “Grey Scale” is as close as we come to his playing being untreated, and showcases that his composition skills remain unique. 

“Glide” is trademark Fennesz, a 9 minute epic of oscillating noise that surrounds and laces a sustained melody. It could be the best song on the album, but it for me pinpoints the problem with it, in that despite the soaring ambience and melancholic feel, I feel that he’s shrouding his ability to move onto something greater with a cloak of familiarity in the distinct choices he makes with sound production. Ultimately that’s a rather roundabout way of saying that Black Sea is really nothing new, and that I for one am a little bit disappointed that he’s not really progressed his aesthetic on this album since Venice. The work with Sakamoto in particular showed that he’s capable of great things, but it may be that like a lot of noise artists in the last couple of years such as Tim Hecker and Merzbow, it’s collaboration that is the way forward. The autumnal tones of the single “Saffron Revolution” are a form of redemption at the end, but this feels like treading water, rather than gliding forward.

Toby Frith



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