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Fennesz - Field Recordings 1995:2002

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Artist: Fennesz

Album: Field Recordings 1995:2002

Label: Touch

Review date: Feb. 3, 2003

Christian Fennesz's relative superstardom is fascinating given the opaque nature of his craft. Disfiguring, and in the process often disenfranchising the guitar through a series of audio synthesis programs doesn't normally translate into wide-ranging recognition. Previous works like Hotel Parallel and plus forty seven degrees 56' 37" minus sixteen degrees 51' 08" merit their masterpiece reputations, but remain intensely esoteric and austere. Similar European artists have blazed equally captivating excursions into the avant-garde (see the Raster-Noton label for example) without developing the buzz worthy of promotional comparisons and RIYL stickers.

Fennesz’s recent forays into popular culture (“covering” the Rolling Stones and, for all intents and purposes, the Beach Boys) undoubtedly attracted music enthusiasts outside of the Powerbook nation and inside a more media-driven marketplace. The potential novelty value of “Paint It Black” and outright melodicism of Endless Summer caught avant-rock fans by surprise in 2001, filling a niche for something “new” and redefining the extent of their genre.

However, an argument can be made that Fennesz’s fame is partially linked to his prolificacy. The man has played a part in over a dozen full-length recordings since 1995, ranging from his solo studio albums to improvisational group collaborations on labels like Erstwhile and Grob. It also doesn’t hurt to be one-third of a “supergroup” with Peter Rehberg and the ubiquitous Jim O’Rourke.

Fans of Fennesz’s permeation of the avant-garde and not just his pop sensibility are more apt to fall for Field Recordings 1995:2002, a collection of compilation donations over the past eight years plus the entirety of 1995’s Instrument EP. Many of the recordings and remixes on Field Recordings unfurl with the gentility that marked Endless Summer, but not necessarily the explicit detail to melody. In a sense, Field Recordings acts as an introduction to the recently converted fashionista who know only of his sun-kissed systemische.

Instrument, his debut 12” for Mego, is the key installment on Field Recordings. The long out-of-print EP, here remastered, features some of Fennesz’s most overtly rhythmic compositions. “Instrument 1” consists of looped guitar roughage and danceable beats that could be adequately deemed “post-industrial”. “Instrument 2” dusts mechanical dither with hesitant, almost translucent piano, while “Instrument 3” overlays cyclical guitar stabs and a skittering cymbal to dizzying effect.

Instrument’s finale “Instrument 4” is perhaps the jumping-off point for Fennesz’s later work. Here he trades rhythm for hues, looping a languid guitar piece underneath some digital dust. The resolute attention to backdrop, and on a grander scale the delineation of space, on “4” was manifest in greater detail on Hotel Parallel and remains one of Fennesz’s studio specialties.

The various Various Artists tracks assembled here vary in profundity. “Ivend00”, which was composed for the rkk13 CD on Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge, is a thin exercise in pretense. “Surf”, taken from Ash International’s Decay is an aptly-titled and engrossing dive into shoegazer drone. “Good Man”, which was reportedly composed specifically for this compilation, actually sounds like material from the cutting-room floor of the Endless Summer sessions.

Fans of the Summer sound have two far-better tracks to digest here, both remixes for Ekkehard Ehlers, possibly Fennesz’s closest contemporary. “Betrieb” features a serene string drone with momentary glitches, while the album’s closer “Codeine” (a remix of the Ehlers/Stephan Mathieu track “Heroin”) executes the Endless Summer blueprint to perfection. Its folky guitar strums and ethereal drones are a blissful counteractant to the harsher complexities of Field Recordings.

Whether “Codeine” is enough to satiate the latter-day Fennesz fan is questionable, but for those who hold Hotel Parallel in the same regard as Endless Summer, the inclusion of Instrument more than justifies Field Recordings. Plus, nothing cements rock star status like a spotty B-sides compilation.

By Otis Hart

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