To be honest, I came to Fennesz because of his Sylvian connection. His contribution to the truly sublime Blemish cd (arguably Sylvian's best album) came in the form of Fire in the Forest. A beautiful track of crackles, noise and melody that blends perfectly with Sylvian's unique voice. Sylvian returned the favour by recording Transit for Fennesz's 2004 Venice, a haunting track that became one of the highlights of Sylvian's World Is Everything tour in 2007. On the whole, Venice was an album of beautiful, melodic pieces, whose tonal nature rendered it more accessible than his previous outings.
In between Venice and Black Sea, Fennesz also collaborated with Sakamoto to produce the wonderful Cendre album. This has to be one of the most successful artistic collaborations, with each artist not only retaining their own voice, but also adding considerably to the other.
Black Sea itself manages to retain Fennesz' signature but there seems much more depth to the work overall. It moves effortlessly between tonal and atonal sections, it crackles and scrapes and on occasion bombards the listener with intense white noise. But regardless of the atonal cacophony that ensues sporadically throughout, it is melody and soul that wins in the end. It reminds me a little of Sylvian and Czukay's Plight & Premonition in its sparse, accessible pieces. The fragile melodies also bring to mind Neu Gestalt's recent work Altered Carbon, which utilises crackles, found sounds and melody in a similar way.
Black Sea is an album that demands the attention from its listener. Further, it is an album that will in time be regarded as a classic.
Black Sea from Fennesz is a huge leap forward in both musical content and production from his past works. There's so much depth and subtlety to this album and it's simply breathtaking how Fennesz manages to coax layer after layer of texture from a relatively simple array of equipment. A highly recommended album which takes some time to reveal its innermost qualities but by the same token it's not a difficult or abrasive listen.
The pattern that a lot of reviewers fall into when dealing with ambient/electronica albums such as Fennesz's Black Sea consists of using endless nature metaphors, long words such as 'transcendental', and talking at length about the subtlety and inaccessible nature of the genre that requires listeners to invest time and effort in absorbing everything the album has to offer. Maybe throw in something about how the record redefines what 'music' truly is and should be and you have your perfect, muso ambient review. I will now (perhaps ill-advisedly) attempt to sum up what Fennesz's latest album is about, in as concise a way I can, without resorting to any of those elements.
Christian Fennesz is known on the ambient scene for his trademark sound which combines guitar picking and experimentation with digital manipulation techniques; creating a wall of intense, beautiful noise. This sound has become somewhat more commonplace with the development and proliferation of software required to create such music, but justifiably Fennesz has remained one of the leaders of the pack, with every album release being seen as a notable event on the calendar. However, we haven't seen a proper release since 2004's Venice, so the delivery is particularly important this time round.
Thankfully, what is presented is all of the beauty and nuance that Fennesz is so acclaimed for, on a huge scale. Opening title track Black Sea is a perfect microcosm - perhaps with it's ten minutes-plus running time we should say 'maxicosm' - of the album as a whole. Beginning with layers of feedback that slowly peel away to reveal trickles of gentle melodic tones and later some clean guitar meandering, the track effortlessly segues in and out of solemnity, catharsis and euphoria, displaying Fennesz's mastery of dynamics. Indeed, he can do harsh and mechanical as well as mellifluous (hey, I said attempt, ok?!), as the following track 'The Colour Of Three seamlessly introduces a machine-like whirring punctuated by stark stabs of sound whilst an expansive melodic current drifts and flows around it. Later, 'Glide' provides the perfect plane of building tension and swell, coming to an all-enveloping peak before slowly subsiding and fading into nothingness. Fennesz saves his trump card for the final track 'Saffron Revolution' which like the title track spans the full spectrum of texture and sound that makes his music so enthralling to hear. Subtle drones and intimate guitar musings conglomerate into a wonderfully expansive dome of sound that, through a competent speaker system seems as if it was fashioned in a vast choral chamber. What the hell, I'm just going to say it; with the fading of the last chiming echo, Fennesz rounds off what is an intensely physical and personal album, more an experience than just a record.
Ok, so I didn't exactly succeed in my attempt to deliver an atypical review of an ambient album. But what is learned from records like Black Sea is that through all the subtlety, poignance and beauty that it offers, it is nigh on impossible not to enthuse, because any less would be doing the works a disservice. As such, Black Sea is a worthy addition to the standard bearers of melodic experimentalism, and well worth your time and superlatives. (Kiron Mair)
For fans of: Aughra, Biosphere, Ventoux, Jim O'Rourke, Alva Noto
Fennesz seems to have a way of using color, texture, and mood to paint musical landscapes which I don't think I have heard in any other artist. If you can appreciate music without clearly defined melodies, harmonies, rhythms etc. then this is definitely worth having a listen to. I think this a case where you can judge the book (in this case, album) by its cover.