loteq | Regensburg | 02/26/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Closely allied with Vienna?s music scene and the famous Mego crew, experimental guitarist Christian Fennesz has released some challenging and well-known albums and EPs in recent years, many of them also lauded by the press as some of the most innovative and interesting music of their time. However, Fennesz is not a guitarist in the traditional sense of the word since his projects have always taken advantage of the latest in digital distortion and sound sampling technology: The influence of both early-'90s noise-rock bands like My Bloody Valentine and knob twiddlers like Pan Sonic or Bruce Gilbert is evident in most of his work, which means that his soundscapes usually have few sonic connections with their instrument of origin. It's little surprise that all these elements find full flower on "+/-", his second proper studio album which was released in 1999 on Jon Wozencroft?s arty Touch label - the home of such post-rock stars as Hafler Trio, Locust, Sandoz, and Scala. Now, with all these things in mind, one should expect that "+/-" is a masterpiece, and this 8-track/38-minute disc truly starts things off with the breathtaking "010" (there are neither individual track numbers nor information about the musician, but the pages of the booklet contain some photographs which may help to explain the title of the album). Opening with piercing, high-pitched hiss, the piece soon becomes more and more complex and hypnotic, with layers of heavy electronic distortion and polar static being joined by melodic guitar noise which changes from being lost in the background to becoming more promiment. It may all sound familiar for those who have listened to Main?s earlier output, but the depth and emotional power of Fennesz?s performance and the incredibly dense, layered production create a thoughtful track which has, unlike many other on this disc, an edge. There are still some more moments on this album which the more seasoned listener shouldn?t miss, for example, the second half of "013" with its intriguing, bell-like staccato sample, and the hyperactive, unpredictable opening sequence of "016", yet it often seems as if Fennesz was too concerned with manipulating cold and uninteresting fragments of machine noise - perhaps more than half of "+/-" will be utterly unpalatable even for advanced music fans due to the lack of compelling textures and gripping sounds. Instead of building on the strengths of the convoluted opening track, much of the rest of the album could be the soundtrack for post-modern robots, evoking the image of alien landscapes colored predominantly grey and devoid of life. This is especially true for the shorter pieces "011", "016", and "017", where crackling static, buzzing quasi-rhythms and industrial noisescapes are the main features, while the 8-minute abrasive guitar-rocker "014" is marred by its stagnant, lethargic quality. Thus, the calmer and more contemplative passages on "+/-" tend to be the most successful ones, such as the quite beautiful "015": This track is noticeably more atmospheric than many of the other pieces, consisting of wildly oscillating, metallic snippets of sound which are backed by shimmering, vaguely melodic guitar harmonics. Another worthwhile track is the droning, mysterious "012", which really reminded me of Main?s landmark release "Firmament II" thanks to its successful fusion of detached beauty, suspense and sonic freak-out. Overall, fans of the aforementioned bands and friends of experimental, guitar-based ambient music will will be happy enough to have "+/-" in their collection, but those who have yet to sample the best work of this sonically extreme artist would be better off with picking up a copy of Fennesz's excellent debut "Hotel Paral.lel" or his quite accessible breakthrough effort "Endless summer"."