Fennesz: Venice

If 2001's Endless Summer initiated a paradigm shift towards a more emotional strain of laptop electronica, then Venice represents a subtle advance upon it as opposed to an equivalent leap. Given the rapturous reception that greeted Endless Summer, it would be difficult to imagine the follow-up being its equal, but Venice is not only that but perhaps even better, although that's less obvious given its more restrained style. Of course Fennesz smartly eased the mounting pressure by releasing Live in Japan and Field Recordings 1995-2002 in the interim yet Venice is the clear successor to Endless Summer. As before, so unique is his sound that the erstwhile critic struggles in vain for vocabulary rich enough to distill its essence into language. The music unfolds according to some internal, organic logic that's ineffable yet seems natural, and there's a mercurial and enigmatic quality to his style that renders it powerful. Fennesz manages the remarkable feat of channeling deep emotion into sound that's uncompromisingly advanced and cerebral, with the result at times uncannily poignant. The magnificent opener ‘Rivers of Sand' is a perfect case in point. With its shimmering streams and hazy smears, it's a spectacular marriage of pure electronic textures and affecting melancholia. Fennesz here alchemizes icy shards of sound into sensual vistas.

Unlike Endless Summer, Venice adopts a more ambient style on many tracks. “Château Rouge” is a becalmed oasis conjured by grinding waves of noise and flicker, while “The Other Face” is a drone-like slab of swirling crackle inside of which slowly broils a mass of seething static. Even better is the majestic “Circassian” whose sound suggests the processed sounds of a thousand humming monks filtered through gargantuan waves of steely abrasion. Guitar is less dominantly featured on Venice, “Laguna,” a largely untreated episode of strums and picking, the sole exception. Perhaps inspired by his involvement in Touch's Spire project, organ figures prominently on the phantom, spectral shimmer of “The Point of It All” and “City of Light.” The former's ghostly themes are obscured by gently thrumming waves, whereas the latter's shimmering clicks are heard through a Fenneszian blur. “The Stone of Impermanence,” an anthemic, seething fireball of guitar distortion, ends Venice in grand fashion yet even when the sound is intensely raw, the melancholy of the song's melodies seeps through. The most obvious surprise is the addition of vocals, if only to one track. Fennesz appeared on David Sylvian's 2003 Blemish and the one-time Japan frontman returns the favour on “Transit.” His deep, sonorous voice seems jarring at first, perhaps because it seems initially overdramatic and cloying when it's mixed so high. But soon the controlled majesty of the song takes root, and the beautiful conjunction of his multi-tracked singing and Fennesz's majestic support becomes clear. When Sylvian utters “Follow me / Won't you follow me,” the melancholy lyric and mournful melody fuse into a siren call that's irresistible. It's a gloriously transcendent event on a recording that abounds with similarly magical moments.

April 2004