Fennesz: Black Sea

By: Greg Gargiulo

Fennesz can be defined as sheer sonic experimentation. While it's understood there's much more structure and layout than first meets the ear, the notion arises while listening that what's being heard is some kind of field recording of external forces that wound up sounding like music by a matter of chance. Black Sea (Touch) could be a ball of static electricity and sunlight wrapped in a tin foil blanket, launched from the core of the Earth, with a recording device attached to capture everything within and around it as it travels through the realms of our world, and eventually into the ether. Never overpowering, yet always captivating, Black Sea is experimental, not just for the creator in his productive endeavors, but for the listener as well, as the malleable work opens up the possibility of manifold interpretations to match its spectral nature.

For his fourth studio effort, the Austrian-based Christian Fennesz, who usually drops his first name on recordings, makes use of his humble-yet-effective instrumentation bundle - electric and acoustic guitars, synths, laptop and other electronics - to mold an ambient soundscape that's both unassuming and consuming at the same time. Black Sea, whose optimal enjoyment requires a certain shade of patience (and a pair of headphones), never hits like a shot of whiskey, blasting one's eyes open after it's down the hatch. Instead, it's meant to be imbibed like an aged Burgundy, with each note and accent savored as it slowly dribbles through the body and warms the blood.

Black Sea's whizzes and warbles, crackles and creeps, drones and whips from all different directions converging and interacting with each other in the center, peacefully jostling for position but never completely drowning or canceling out what's already working its course. In the grain of Brian Eno's extensive ambient collection and Aphex Twin's critic-defying Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, what carries the album is an apparent minimalism that's actually a detailed, textured array that just happens to take time to fully form itself. A notable quality is its unique ability to reach a crescendo, such as the one characterized by stringy synths on "Glide," and redirect the energy inside the listener as it rises and finally thins out - more of an implosion than an explosion. The variation in setting also contributes a great deal and provides a vast template to let the imagination run wild. The extraterrestrial essence of "Perfume For Winter" and "Vacuum" could lay the backgrounds for their respective sci-fi films, each equally as bizarre and diverse as the other, while "Grey Scale" has a much lighter, more innocent tone, reminiscent of a silent train hugging the edges of a foggy cliff on its way to nowhere in particular.

Though Fennesz is all the aforementioned things for some, he certainly is not for everyone, and Black Sea unfortunately has the potential to be mistakenly given the label "just noise" by those who might not give the album what it demands. When absorbed with uninterrupted and focused attention, however, Black Sea can be an internally moving piece of music, and a soothing device for reflective listening.

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[Published on: 3/9/09]

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aquariumdrunk Mon 3/9/2009 05:36PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Nice review. Love the album and I'm really not huge on Venice or the "classic" Endless Summer.