This year, Christian Fennesz has displayed a renewed willingness to collaborate. A decade or so ago, early in his career as a solo electronica artist, Fennesz seemed to be releasing collaborative CDs on an almost weekly basis, documenting various one-off improv configurations. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he made a point of announcing that he would be avoiding such collaborative projects in future, preferring to concentrate on his solo work. FennO’Berg, his ongoing trio with Peter “Pita” Rehberg and Jim O’Rourke, was scheduled to continue but – somewhere along the line – even that fell by the wayside. The 2010 release of In Stereo – the (excellent) third FennO’Berg album – was a welcome surprise, then. Even better, In Stereo has been followed by a handful of other commendable collaborative releases. It’s like the old days – only the quality control seems to be somewhat more stringent.
Actually, this is a simplification of the storyline. Over the last few years, Fennesz has been edging his way back into the fray, with collaborations that have ranged from the unlikely (a live duo with Mike Patton) to the sublime (Till the Old World’s Blown Up & a New One is Created – a glorious trio album with Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Brandlmayr). Still, his 2010 collabs are enjoying a relatively elevated public profile, which may reflect Fennesz’s confidence in their quality or may simply be an upshot of his ever-growing commercial viability.
Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not (Type, LP) is the latest album from On, the duo of Bubblegumcage III favourite Sylvain Chauveau and Steven Hess of Pan American/Labradford. On’s modus operandi is to improvise raw source material, which is then turned over to a third-party producer for transformation into a coherent album. The duo’s previous LP, Your Naked Ghost Comes Back at Night, was produced by Nordic dark ambient overlord Deathprod. This new one is handled by – you guessed it – Christian Fennesz.
It’s a fairly unassuming album, built around some stealthily abstract loops, which occasionally cohere into rather surprising, jazzy rhythms. What Something That Has Form… lacks in impact, it more than makes up for in charm. The music here emits a subtle magnetic attraction; an almost subliminal hypnotic power that recalls Jan Jelinek’s excellent Kosmicher Pitch album. It’s one of those LPs you’ll keep coming back to, almost without realising how into it you really are. Definitely worth heading right over to Forced Exposure to order a copy – particularly as the vinyl is limited to 500 units. If you’re not yet convinced, you can stream the whole album via the Type website.
Knoxville (Thrill Jockey, LP) is a live album recorded at Tennessee’s Big Ears festival. It pits Fennesz’s laptop against drums courtesy of Tony Buck from The Necks and the guitar of one David Daniell. This is a rather more strident venture than the On LP but – perhaps by the same token – a slightly less satisfying one. Like the aforementioned trio album with Dafeldecker and Brandlmayr, Knoxville mixes free improvisation with epic post-rock. But – in that trio – Fennesz was matched by players who shared his natural diffidence and hesitancy. Here, the jazzy drums and chiming guitar often threaten to drown out Fennesz’s subtle digital atmospherics. Knoxville is a fundamentally satisfying, often beautiful album – it just needz moar Fennesz.
Hmmm… Having said that, perhaps some of those guitar parts are Fennesz. Probably a good sign that it’s hard to tell. Oh and on the album’s standout track – “Antonia”– he really gets to shine. All told, then, Knoxville is another essential purchase for Fennesz fans. It’ll be released by Thrill Jockey on August 24th.
There’s more! Don’t sleep on that Oneohtrix Point Never remix featuring Antony (he of the Johnsons) – it’s phenomenal! And if you live in North America, do whatever you can to see the great man on his continent-wide tour this autumn.