It’s been something like four and a half years since Christian Fennesz’s last full solo album, Venice. In the interim there have been odd EPs, stray tracks and collaborative projects such as last year’s Cendre with Ryuichi Sakamoto. But Fennesz took a largely back seat role on that record. So Black Sea has been eagerly anticipated. It’s always easy to get a little over-enthusiastic about a record that’s been awaited so long, but despite that caveat, the new album is a major work. It’s both a consolidation of what he’s done before, and a continuation into new areas. There are differences in nuance and emphasis, but this isn’t a record that breaks with the past.
Three of the eight tracks exceed eight minutes, and there’s a general air of ideas being allowed to develop unhurriedly. Melodies are sometimes slow to emerge, and are sometimes buried under layers of sound. But they are there. And they are invariably gloriously sad.
Only two of the tracks are collaborations. “The Colour of Three” features Anthony Pateras playing prepared piano. It provides an almost gamelan sounding counterpoint to the crashing and ebbing waves of fuzz guitar that wash through the track. The other is the epic “Glide”, processed and re-edited from a live performance in Paris with laptop artist Rosy Parlane. It’s a drone piece that shape-shifts in pitch and tone whilst building in intensity, slowly revealing an almost hymnal melody. It’s really quite something.
Elsewhere, there are times when Fennesz’s guitar emerges largely unprocessed. It feels almost naked and vulnerable amidst the layers of squall and fizz. “Grey Scale” is a case in point – a track with an almost pastoral beauty about it. What guitar there is, is distorted unrecognisably on other pieces. The plaintive “Vacuum” has an Eno-esque vibe to it – a dreamscape of synthetic melancholy. The bookend tracks “Black Sea” and “Saffron Revolution” are both stormy, drone dominated pieces that have an elemental force which clears to briefly expose gentle acoustic guitar melodies.
Black Sea is by turns dense and fragile. Although it’s quite eclectic in execution, it’s remarkably consistent in tone and mood. And in quality. There are no obvious weak patches anywhere along this 52 minute journey. Others have acclaimed it as Christian Fennesz’s best record yet. I would be a little cautious to pass that kind of judgement after just a few listens, but it might well be. It’s certainly one of the finest things I’ve heard in 2008.
1 Black Sea (10:11)
2 The Colour Of Three (8:07)
3 Perfume For Winter (4:36)
4 Grey Scale (4:10)
5 Glide (9:30)
6 Vacuum (3:57)
7 Glass Ceiling (5:49)
8 Saffron Revolution (5:52)