ith Endless Summer Christian Fennesz amply demonstrated that the Beach Boys’ influence can be taken in directions radically different to the usual harmonic pilfering and put-on wide-eyed wonder that most followers of Brian Wilson seem to feel does justice to America’s finest and maddest pop artist. I never understood the fuss about Pet Sounds, but the way Fennesz dissolved its essence in layers of stereoscopic interference and interplanetary noise was more compelling than a dozen indie bands with big drums and weak singers.
After the relative success of Endless Summer, as much to do, perhaps, with its cover and presentation as its sonics, Fennesz retreated back to the world of field recordings and complete abstraction. Venice sees him wandering back towards the real world once again, but never too close. As ever, Fennesz makes music that sounds as if he’s dropped his laptop into the ocean and recorded the resultant sound of its electronic struggle against drowning, or as if he’s set fire to a piece of vinyl that was playing at the wrong speed anyway; it is noise, but it is beautiful noise. If Endless Summer’s lineage in the Beach Boys was a conceptual way in for listeners not used to his particular brand of Austrian experimentation, then those same listeners could be pulled in again by leaning towards the idea that Venice is a love song to Europe’s most romantic city, an abstract psalm where carefully placed noise can be as beautiful and poetic as carefully placed words.
The album is mostly constructed from unidentifiable electrical noise, but occasionally Fennesz leaves his guitar recognisable, such as on “Laguna” which is as if someone had dissolved “Runeii” from Laughing Stock in acid, while “City Of Light” is little more than the hum of static but it rises and drifts in such a manner that it gives swell to your heart, makes you hold the back of your neck and gaze out of your window. “The Stone Of Impermanence” begins with a violent thrash and then quietly dies over the course of the next five minutes, and “Circassian” is unassailable constructivism, rising and rising and rising, building towers atop mountains (fucking astonishing) using only sand and leaves and powdered, eroded cement dust, static vistas stricken by electrical storms far off, beautiful to look at, better to touch, but intangible. Love is not the fulfilment of yearning.
David Sylvian returns a favour on “Transit” after Fennesz guested on the stark Blemish, talking of saving cigarettes and leaving Europe, drinking alone and encouraging doomed romanticism amongst those who admire doomed romanticism, but his sonorous and languorous voice intrudes perhaps too far into the otherwise suspiciously beatific abstraction. A series of pulses like waves racing around a pier in a manner that resembles enormous, sodden angel’s wings buoy Sylvian’s precarious voice, impinging the instrumental (if one can summon these sounds from mere instruments) tenure and interrupting the otherwise understandable wordless flow.
Fennesz makes Boards Of Canada sound like Daft Punk and My Bloody Valentine sound like Oasis. He does with sound what Stan Brakhage did with film, altering its very fabric and texture, employing disorder and error as forms of communication and expression. He forces you to alter your understanding of the world around you by challenging you to see things differently, to learn a different method of perception and interpretation, to look beneath the chaos that seems to govern the movements of life and find the patterns beneath, to understand that every variable cannot be measured, every analogue cannot be known. Venice is a fine continuation of his peculiar and unique aesthetic.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MARCH 21 - MARCH 27, 2004