Ambient music typically concerns itself with the atmospheric, the weightless and often the intangible, but since releasing his 2001 masterpiece Endless Summer, Christian Fennesz has pursued more terrestrial, or more specifically, aqueous themes. From that album’s bittersweet coastlines to the canals of Venice, and the dark and mysterious depths of Black Sea, a water theme has informed his artistic direction, even if the connection is often more abstract. The way he evokes the imagery of nostalgic summers, for instance, is not through explicit means, but through tones and loops that touch those strange and enigmatic triggers. Yet new EP Seven Stars, by title alone, offers a clear indication of a change in direction. Fennesz, across this 18-minute release, is stepping out of the water, onto land and leaping into the cosmos.
Specifically citing the aim of creating something that expresses lightness, Fennesz has taken his electronic soundscapes into new territory that’s cinematic one moment and nebulous the next, covering compellingly diverse space on a surprisingly short release. The opening track, “Liminal,” is one of the most direct and accessible compositions one is likely to find on a Fennesz release. Its mixture of acoustic guitars and melancholy synths is gorgeous, even melodic, sounding more like a film score than anything Fennesz has recorded in recent years. Yet “July” is far less immediate, an atmospheric piece whose distortions and sonic waves give the listener the illusion of floating in space. “Shift” continues this idea, but to a more awe-inspiring degree, the kind of spacious yet heavy-hitting scoring that’s seemingly designed for planetariums. But the closing title track returns to a more direct, melodic idea, closing out the EP with a brief but lovely piece that ends the journey into space with a soft landing on terra firma.
While Seven Stars isn’t nearly as emotionally gripping as Endless Summer, nor as darkly compelling as Black Sea, it nonetheless provides another interesting aspect of Fennesz’s ever-evolving vision. As always, it’s quite lovely, and as a bridge between his lengthier material, it’s another splendid, if brief, addition to his stunning body of work.
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.