aced with the task of critiquing Gnayse, the reviewer wrestles with that age-old conundrum: should said assessment restrict itself to the recording alone, or should it be broached contextually as the latest addition to the artist’s oeuvre? Considered in isolation, Gnayse is a credible enough exercise in refined, classical-influenced IDM; heard as the third in the Bola (Darrell Fitton) series coming after Soup (1998) and Fyuti (2002), Gnayse pales by comparison, even if it does signify a stylistic departure from its predecessors.

Upon its initial release (Skam reissued it in 2003), Bola’s debut garnered ample acclaim and justifiably so. Years later, it still sounds fresh, teeming with imagination and invention, its focus on compositional quality and stylistic contrasts rather than complex programming. The collection encompasses mellow soul-jazz (“Aguilla”), propulsive machine funk (“W.I.K.”), and wistful, cascading melodicism (“Forcasa 3”) and, on tracks like the epic “Glink” and thunderous “Amnion,” Fitton proves a deft hand at dynamic development too. An ideal advancement, Fyuti then made good on Soup’s promise by broadening the sound palette and adding more polished production values with no diminishment in compositional quality. The sophomore outing is as wide-ranging as the first, with episodes of vocodered funk (“Pae Paoe”), restless industrial clatter (“Veronex Cypher”), and chilled ambient drama (“VM8”).

Interestingly, Fitton has called Soup “naïve,” a description open to multiple interpretations though presumably he means less sophisticated. Certainly Gnayse does sound more polished, with every note in its proper place, and flawlessly produced. But what Soup might lack in refinement, it more than makes up for in energy and dynamics, rendering the new work less compelling by comparison. Heard in the developmental context of its predecessors, Gnayse sounds more circumscribed and lacking in passion and excitement, Soup’s rougher edges now buffed to a too-pristine sheen.

On the new release, Fitton emphasizes his music’s symphonic dimension. Rather than inching towards hip-hop-inflected electronica (as Fyuti occasionally does), Gnayse fuses classical, cinematic, and electronic styles into a hybrid that’s inarguably accomplished but bereft of drama. Furthermore, a too-conspicuous formula—percolating beats paired with atmospheric overlays of melancholy electronic tones and deep swells of orchestral strings—gradually coalesces as the album unfolds.

In the promising opener “Eluus,” Fitton merges glistening melodies with dubby pinprick clatter and then, three minutes in, adds see-sawing, Glass-like strings; layers aren’t woven seamlessly together so much as layered atop one another, an approach that emerges in later pieces too (“Pfane Pt 1,” “Pfane Pt 2,” “Papnwea”). In addition, the strings’ slower tempo is paired with the more rapid beat patterns and even slower atmospheric tones, contrasting tempi being another trait that appears throughout. Elsewhere, “Effanajor” drapes wordless vocals over elastic beats, a combination that veers a little too closely into New Age territory. Most pieces juxtapose Eno-like ambience, classical piano stylings, and electronic strings with spindly staccato beat patterns, though “Papnwea” does offer a subtle hint of hip-hop in its punchy down-tempo beats.

Even though the album’s compositions do evolve from ambient intros into more aggressive episodes and then decompress into becalmed codas, the flawlessly executed and perfectly realized Gnayse lacks the passionate energy that render Soup and Fyuti so memorable. Bola aficionados may choose to include Gnayse in their collections because of its more strongly emphasized classical dimension, but those seeking to add a first Bola release to their collections might be better to consider its precursors first.

Reviewed by: Ron Schepper

Reviewed on: 2005-01-04

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