The 5th full length LP from electroacoustic/glitch god Fennesz, Venice (somewhere I hope to visit myself in a few weeks time).
Following the successes of previous albums (most notably the sunny masterpiece that is Endless Summer), Fennesz continues to refine and focus his sound with this release; a gorgeous, wistful and meticulously crafted sonic landscape, one of the best ways for newcomers to introduce themselves to some of these notoriously tricky genres (glitch mostly).
Like most Fennesz albums, at the core of this release is the guitar; feedbacked, distorted, fragmented, it transcends its original voice into a plethora of new sounds, both very similar and deeply unfamiliar. Describing the sound is a difficult notion for those who haven’t heard it, and as it comes in a variety of forms this problem is further compounded.
“Rivers of Sand” introduces us perfectly; grinding feedback and minute, clipped samples of the original guitar sound wash slowly along, perfectly playing to the title. The sound is coarse, but it has a gentility and softness to it; you know how the sand at the sea’s edge is really saturated and gloopy? And when you pick it up it’s just a soggy, sandy mess but it feels really soft? This is the sonic equivalent of that.
“City of Light” shows the flip side of that sound with an almost drone-focused style. Low level, shimmering noise and gentle strings evoke a peaceful yet nostalgic atmosphere, like all those times spent at the side of the pool with your feet in the water staring at your own reflection and the sunlight dancing on the ripples. With “Circassian” we actually get a glimpse of the actual guitar amidst the wash of reverb and feedback, strumming with determination as the waves of its own sound threaten to smother (drown) it. Stylistically it sounds a lot like a shoegaze piece.
As we start to get close to the middle of the album, my favourite tracks start to appear. The delicate “Onsay” after the chaos of “Circassian” marks the shift towards the more melancholic and introverted side of this album as it moves into “The Other Face”. Soft vocal hums and ahhs become marred by weaving, disjointed glitch snippets, rolling and heaving on the electroacoustic waves as our reflection becomes disturbed and distorted.
“Transit” surprises us all with a distinct pop lilt, bringing on the smooth vocals of David Sylvian, singing softly and mournfully as Fennesz manipulates the fuzz around him:
“To wonder why of Europe
To live, love, and cry in Europe
Say your goodbyes to Europe
Our history dies with Europe”
The beautifully impassioned vocals and the power of the guitar shredding as the chorus enters never fails to give me shivers.
But to me it is part of a couplet with the next track, which may be one of my favourite tracks of all time; “The Point Of It All”. Once again, describing the sound is difficult; delicate drones serenade Fennesz as he manipulates his guitar, floating along gently on a stream of gentle glitch before the guitar is finally unmasked and can finally be heard in all its fantastic, acoustic glory. As Fennesz strips back his sound, making bare its origins, it reveals the metaphor for life and our own personal searches for purpose and the point of it all.
The apparently gentle descent towards the end begins at this point, with the reasonably acoustic “Laguna” strumming softly into the quiet fuzz of “Asusu” and into one of the worst closing tracks of any album ever, “The Stone Of Impermanence”. Considering how Fennesz had succeeded in keeping the majority of the album away from a hardcore glitch sound, “Stone” almost ruins the peaceful atmosphere carefully introduced and matured throughout the entire album. It starts with a few clicks and drops straight into abrasive and powerful guitar feedback. While still very emotionally captivating, I’ve never enjoyed its presence and always felt it just so unnecessary.
If you’re looking for an easy and palatable way to get into glitch, this is it. If you’re looking for an ambient album with drone and guitar elements, this is it too. Do not, do not, disregard this because it has glitch in the tags, this is a stunning release and an absolutely essential ambient album.