The progression of Christian Fennesz’s music over the past decade is akin to watching a landscape slowly come into focus. From earlier, less melody-based records like Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56′ 37″ Minus Sixteen Degrees 51′ 08″ to subsequent releases like the breathtaking Endless Summer and Venice, Fennesz has, in an almost magical way, started from fields of ambient noise and made shapes and figures emerge. In an almost chaotic landscape emerge beautiful sounds and textures, a glorious siren song heard softly through the clatter. On Black Sea, Fennesz’s first new full-length album in four years, he pulls a similar trick, only unlike the ebullient soundscapes on Endless Summer, the sonic creations here are far more chilly, yet no less beautiful.
The most apt statement I’ve heard about Black Sea is that the music sounds like the album’s cover, a dingy but awe-inspiring industrial landscape photographed by Touch label founder Jon Wozencroft. In a manner of speaking, you could say that about most of Fennesz’s albums, but with Black Sea it particularly seems to ring true. These compositions are spacious and dark, delicately droning minor key pieces that fade in and out of distortion, sometimes coming together toward a more concrete climax, yet oftentimes spreading out into more sparse territory. These are not `songs’ in the traditional sense; they are almost like organisms, breathing and bleeding into one another. There are no verses or choruses, but rather chilling movements and progressions that, though sometimes barely there, are moving beyond words.
With Black Sea, the overt qualities of Fennesz’s past glitch work have been largely diminished, leaving ambient music that sounds almost like a series of classical pieces. The 10-minute title track is a prime example, opening with distant bursts of static and low rumbles that escalate into a more chaotic din. Between the clicks and the buzzes, there are gentle tones and elegant chimes of guitar. The track, sprawling and vast though it may be, works as merely part of a greater whole, its successor “The Color of Three” like the second part of a series, escalating from slow movements toward buzzing synths and richer textures. Taken as a whole, the two tracks comprise 18 minutes of glacial but rewarding aural depths, with subtle treats interspersed between both overwhelming buzzes and complete absence of sound.
The shorter “Perfume For Winter” is more immediate and digestible, with broad bursts of sound crashing like waves on a shore, ultimately forming a lovely melodic base. “Glide” is a rare track in which Fennesz works with a collaborator, in this case Rosy Parlane, in which a chord comes to life beneath white noise. “Glass Ceiling” consists primarily of plucked and tapped guitar strings, the execution of which is strangely reminiscent of Talk Talk. And “Saffron Revolution,” a single, closes the album with an escalating hiss and tumbling guitars.
The music of Black Sea is precise and intricate, yet flows organically. It breathes and pulses, and crashes like the sea from which it takes its name. Fennesz has taken his music from noisy, difficult sound clashes to something very graceful and elegant. Black Sea is the same Fennesz that’s been around all along, made bare and more delicate than before.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.