Fennesz: Black Sea

A funny thing happened to Christian Fennesz on the way to Endless Summer : he discovered beauty. Oh, sure, beautiful moments appear on his first solo album Hotel Paral.lel (1998) but Endless Summer brought to the fore a startling romantic lushness and lyricism that hadn't been heard before. Having established an extremely personalized style of “noise”-laden, guitar-and-computer-generated experimentalism, Fennesz changed things up dramatically by allowing emotive warmth and melodicism to not only seep into but blossom within his material, with the resultant music exuding feelings associated with remembrance, specifically rapture, nostalgia, ennui, and melancholy. On 2004's Venice, he refined the style, and now four years later Black Sea finds him perfecting it even further.

Fennesz excels at striking a marvelous balance between the sweetly melodic and iridescent—symphonic even—and the static-laden and textural. The two extremes are suspended in a state of perpetual balance, not conflict, throughout Black Sea, the one rarely present without the other alongside it. In “Perfume for Winter,” bleeding tones intermingle with peaceful acoustic strums and the subtle interjection of a pretty keyboard melody while brittle tendrils branch off of delicate acoustic guitar and keyboard melodies during “Grey Scale,” a swarm of static that continually wraps itself around the calming acoustic elements.

As its title hints, Black Sea sounds like more of a natural complement to Endless Summer than to Venice, though that may simply be due to the absence on Black Sea of an equivalent vocal track to “Transit,” the mesmerizing song that paired David Sylvian and Fennesz on Venice. The new release includes instrumental contributions by Anthony Pateras and Rosy Parlane that end up being, in their own way, almost as arresting as Sylvian's. In “The Colour of Three” (the Pateras collaboration) prepared piano tones clank alongside the slowly sizzling synthetic mass in a manner that's analogous, strangely enough, to the cowbells that clatter alongside the strings in Mahler's Sixth Symphony (a coincidence presumably). In “Glide” (recorded live in Paris), Parlane and Fennesz whip up a torrential storm of vaporous noise within which a melancholy, even church-like melodic progression resounds—again a balance between abstract industrial noise sculpting and melodic romanticism. The ten-minute, episodic title track offers a seemingly complete encapsulation of Fennezs's current style. After a turbulent opening of seagulls and loud industrial splutter, the piece settles down, paving the way for a becalmed episode of electronic ambiance and slow-motion acoustic guitar strums that in turn gives way to a sparkling mass of tones and vapours. At such moments, the entrancing, dream-like flow of oceanic sound can't help but recall Endless Summer, no matter the “black” term in the title. Elsewhere, “Glass Ceiling” offers a rare sampling of natural-sounding electric guitar (even a hint of tremolo) before the instrument disappears within a churning mass of chiming tones and choir-like exhalations, and a sweeping wave expands into an immense celestial mass during the closer “Saffron Revolution.” Throughout Black Sea, Fennesz shows himself to be as adept at voicing a fragile melody as he is wielding a synthetic mass that's as heavy and scalpel-sharp as a scythe.

February 2009