Sparklehorse + Fennesz – In the Fishtank 15 (Konkurrent) LP
The early career of Christian Fennesz was positively littered with collaborative releases – of varying quality. A few years ago, Fennesz announced that he was going to start being a lot more choosy about collaborations, mainly concentrating on FennO’berg, his trio with Jim O’Rourke and Peter “Pita” Rehberg.
Rather confusingly, there have been no new FennO’berg albums since that time but Fennesz has gone on tour with Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton (an artist whose good intentions do little to mask his lack of talent) and has also appeared on an album by a rather nondescript indie rock act called Sparklehorse.*
You might be forgiven for greeting the news of a full-on Sparklehorse + Fennesz release with a copious yawn. But if you took the time to give said release a fair listen, well you’d be taking back that yawn pretty quickly, mister.
In the Fishtank 15 is the latest entry in the Konkurrent label’s series of collaborative releases, which has previously paired up Low with the Dirty Three and Tortoise with The Ex. It’s basically a document of Fennesz jamming in the studio with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous and it really is surprisingly satisfying.
Things do not start off promisingly. Early on in the opening track (“Music Box of Snakes”) you can clearly hear Linkous fiddling with a delay pedal – usually the first sign of a clueless rock guitarist trying to be “experimental”. Things pick up pretty quickly though and Linkous ends up acquitting himself rather well – in spite of the fact that the whole session takes place in Fennesz’s abstract/electronic realm and barely strays into Linkous’s world of singers and songwriters.
In fact, if there’s a weak link here, it’s Fennesz’s guitar playing. Don’t take that the wrong way, Fennesz is an excellent guitarist – with a strong tone and a lovely melodic sensibility – but he does tend towards always playing the same kind of thing. There are a number of moments on this release where he sounds like he’s about to burst into his own classic tune “Codeine”, most obviously on “Christian’s Guitar Piece”.
And to be honest, the best parts of the whole record are the bits where Linkous’s voice makes an appearance, as on “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “If My Heart”. Listening to these tracks should be pretty humbling stuff for any Fennesz fans who’d written Linkous off as a mere indie rock hack. Maybe Sparklehorse isn’t so bad after all!
The vinyl version of In the Fishtank 15 is available for pre-order from Insound.
(*To be fair, there have been some pretty great Fennesz collab’s in recent years, perhaps most notably 2008’s Fennesz Brandlmayr Dafeldecker 2CD.)