Fennesz – Black Sea

Black Sea

It’s been quite some time since we’ve gotten a proper album from Christian Fennesz. Black Sea is the Austrian musician’s first solo full-length in four years. Known for his ability to transform gorgeous guitar melodies into industrial strength noise meltdowns via the use of a combination of analog guitar pedals and digital signal processing, Black Sea is no exception. The album manages to distill the best elements of his last two full-lengths, 2004’s Venice and 2001’s Endless Summer, into a cohesive sound that remains completely his own while forging ahead into new territory. Depending on what volume you play it at, the album can be subtly beautiful or unforgiving and brutal.

Black Sea begins with series of gurgling electronics and guitar that slowly recedes to reveal a gentle acoustic passage. Over the course of its ten minute time frame, “Black Sea” manages to encompass nearly all of the hallmarks of Fennesz’ albums to date. It has the pastoral beauty of Venice, the surprising electro-acoustic transitions of Endless Summer, and the harsh electronics of Hotel Paral.lel. Which is to say that if you’ve enjoyed Fennesz’ work up to this point that you will not be disappointed with Black Sea. The album adds other elements including more strings than previous releases and extended compositions in opposition to more direct song forms. “The Colour of Three” incorporates the prepared piano of Anthony Pateras to add an element of syncopation to Fennesz’ usually untethered compositions. “Perfume For Winter” sounds constructed as if trying to reproduce the effect of a spray bottle. Over a bed of synth tones Fennesz chokes out several blasts of melodic static before the piece stabilizes.

The absolute highlight of Black Sea is “Glide,” a collaboration with New Zealand sound artist Rosy Parlane. The piece combines the monstrous talents of both artists in a live setting to create a wall of sound. It was beefed up with string sections in post-production by Fennesz to create a distinct texture that sounds like My Bloody Valentine playing a Schoenberg composition. The track’s nine minutes and twenty two seconds are filled with super distorted guitar tones married to distended string swoops.

Over the course of the album’s 52 minutes, the eight tracks reveal a brilliance in construction. It all culminates in the finale, “Saffron Revolution.” The piece is a brief, airy song full of glassy guitar notes that slowly unwind. The final moments sound like chimes clinking in a breeze. It ends Black Sea on a note that sounds as if Fennesz is finally letting go of all the trouble that may have plagued him in the four years it’s taken to produce a follow-up to Venice. If this album is any indication, he’s still got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. If you’re down with music that’s as challenging as it is rewarding, Black Sea will be some of the finest music you hear in 2008.