Bernard Fleischmann - Welcome Tourist
Bernard Fleischmann's Welcome Tourist is a musical travelogue, filled with the strange noises and wondrous melodies of distant, foreign places. An electronic record filled with hints of real instruments and tiny patches of scattered noise and fractured notes, Welcome Tourist is Fleischmann's soothing and invigorating travel journal.
A lyrical post-rock brush has been applied to the groovebox bass; piano and guitar are added to the electronic beats, field recordings and noise elements. Burst of glitch, wrecked synth melodies and a bit of acoustic guitar swarm around an elegant piano melody through the course of "Pass By." "Grunt" adds a drum kit and wood block to the rhythm section while the breathe of a fuzzbox voice ghosts alongside the piano melody. Similar to the manner in which Four Tet brings traditional instrumentation to the IDM world (or, actually, it can be said that the shift is the other way round), Fleischmann crafts an instrumental rock album filled with the innocent naivety of Boards of Canada style electronics.
Well, a mostly instrumental record. The last two tracks -- "Le Desir" and "Sleep" -- are both marred by the inclusion of vocals. They fit the program of Fleischmann's intent -- "There's more to life than the every day's routine," sings Christof Kurzmann on "Le Desir, "Keep this in mind 'till life becomes your dream" -- but they don't quite match the sublime headspace generated by the preceding nine instrumental tracks. Fortunately, you can skip them and load up the second disc and lose yourself in the sprawling 46 minute "Take Your Time" which makes up the entirety of disc two. Essentially a radio play without words, "Take Your Time" is a complete journey replete with reoccurring motifs which play off each other as the piece builds, thickens, and drains away.
Bernard Fleischmann's new record, Welcome Tourist, begins with a spoken-word excerpt from Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience." The musical accompaniment to the political reminder is part winsome melody breaking free and part creaky machinery caught in an endless loop. It is as close to a mission statement as he gets with this record, a piece of pointed rhetoric in a nearly wordless environment. Fleischmann wants us to be free to join him, wants us to be free of the tyranny of economic utilization. There are two stages to being a tourist: knowing that you have the freedom to travel, and being invited to go somewhere else. Welcome Tourist is a record which is both a travelogue and an ode to mental freedom.
Farben - Textstar
Keeping up with the music coming out of Germany these days requires a cheat sheet, a chart by which you can cross-reference the aliases and monikers used by the digital technicians who scatter beats across the different musical terrains. Jan Jelinek is one of these players, and his work as Farben would fall squarely in the section on the chart labeled "microhouse."
Textstar is a collection taken from a series of EPs that he has done as Farben during the last few years and works exceptionally well as a cohesive whole. Textstar is a watery dub affair, sprinkled with washes of melody, thin slices of orchestral samples, and chirping digital effects. These are constructed experiments -- songs which have no natural occurance -- and yet they slip and ooze with organic pulsations. They are aligned to the natural rhythms of the human body, the click and thrum of the blood and organs doing their work, and because of this immediate connectivity, they have an alluring warmth.
"Farben Says: Love to Love you Baby" is a looped slice of time, a tiny sliver of existence that captures a moment of acoustic guitar, a squirt of brass, a shivering echo of a sub-woofer from the next room, a quirk of electronic melody, a chattering loop of woodblock, and a drifting miasma of lost smog. It is the arrangement of these pieces -- cut and recut -- by Jelinek that transforms these disparate moments into a six minute travelogue.
"Bayreuth" is sweet clickity. Digital chirps and the tiny clattering of metal against metal rise over a subtle darkness as a sweet melody stretches itself across the open spaces. Glitch patterns continue to pop as the other elements rise in strength and everything becomes a charted line of brain wave patterns -- music to accompany the brain's movement from deep slumber to REM and fanciful dreaming.
An upright bass loops around blips and a shuffling drum pattern in "Farben Says: Love Oh Love." A drifting radio melody takes us back to the 1950s and the whole shuffling track comes alive with a shimmer. "Farben Says: So Much Love" is the mantra whispered by a faint female voice over a determined bass line. This track becomes a torch song heard faintly in the digitized background of our modern existences.
"Beautone" is built like something from a Wolfgang Voigt track. It begins with a simple downbeat click on a four on the floor pattern with a ringing five note melody echoing in the background. More glitchery and digital elements filter in and compete for your attention with the crescendoing melody. And then an orchestra comprised of flutes and strings descends from the ceiling and the entire room becomes a futuristic disco/concert hall.
Labeling Textstar as "microhouse" gives it a convenient place in the record store, but that fails to give any measure to Jelinek's love for how rhythm finds its way into your heart. Textstar may be carefully calculated in its digital creation, but it is flesh and blood which drives the samplers and beat-boxes. Listen to it. Your body will know.
Klang Elektronik 
Fennesz - Venice
Christian Fennesz works primarily with laptop and guitar and set a new standard for the combination of the two with 2001's Endless Summer where he melded electronic detritus and noise to the open and organic sound of a guitar to build the first pop record for the binary world. Venice is his follow-up and finds him in a more introspective, somber mood, taking the shimmering guitar on a course through territory once ruled by Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine. Fennesz's Venice is a record that obscures as much as it reveals like Turner's watercolors of the sea, sky and stone of Venice: you take it all in because, ultimately, you can't be sure where one part stops and another begins. "Rivers of Sand" is a wash of particles, thousands of tiny grains rushing together to create a river of static noise over a ghostly chorus and a lone guitar. Melodies are submerged beneath this wave of sand and Fennesz moves his hand across the wave, creating breaks in the stream for the melodies to bleed through. "Chateau Rouge" fuzzes guitar over a wellspring of artesian water, the bubbling fountain acting as the percussive element in the otherwise glistening ambience of the track.
"Laguna" is free of any distortion, a simple guitar duet between Fennesz and Burkhard Stangl as if the two were sitting on a balcony overlooking the canals, serenading the passing gondolas and the wheeling sea birds. There is a sense that time has sidestepped you in the streets of Venice, as if you left the modern world at the train station, and with this separation from modern time comes a sense of wistful melancholy and nostalgia. You can hear "Laguna" in the streets of Venice as you become lost in the Byzantine turns and double-backs which thread the city. "Laguna" follows you, echoing off the narrow walls and close rooftops; "Laguna" tugs at you from beneath the bridges and from the grates set low in the water. "Circassian," on the other hand, is filled with noise -- monolithic sheets of echo delay -- as Fennesz and Stangl create waves and waves of sound. Reminiscent of Lovelieschrushing's sonic whirlwind, "Circassian" is meant for the belly of old cathedrals where the endless sonic waves can fill the high space between the floor and the arched roof and rounded cupolas.
David Sylvian contributes the single voice on the record, his languid delivery sliding over a field of scattered noise and static -- water droplets caught by tiny microphones and tweaked into distortion-laced bursts of sound. "Do you feel what I feel?" Sylvian inquires in "Transit," his velvet voice weaving itself about your shoulders. The city can be quite empty at night, silent but for the distant brush of wood against stone and the rhythmic tap-tap of water. In these silences, you will find voices like Sylvian's, spectral ghosts that whisper, "Follow me. Won't you follow me?"
My objectivity goes out the window during "City of Light" as Fennesz welds together layers of fuzz and drones into a shimmering soundtrack, which mirrors the play of light against the moving waters of the Grand Canal at night. I visited the city of Venice once and fell in love with the crooked waterways and the old stones. I am in love all over again during "The Other Face" as Fennesz applies his digital layering to his guitar, to the wind which whispers down the stone alleys, to the rain which spatters off the shutters and railings of the hotel windows, to the sound of the water in the winding canals which track through the body of Venice. What Fennesz leaves in my head with his music is 16mm film versions of my memories, the frames stained at the edges and blurred by static and pops. The colors are still rich -- still vibrant -- but everything is softened and scarred by having been looped a few thousand times in my head. Still, like all your favorite things, you still keep replaying them even as time and entropy wear them away into nothingness. Ah, Venice.
Fognode - Porch Music EP
Brian Siskind, who records urban travelogues under the guise of Fognode, is building a new home studio. Taking a break from the maze of wires and software patches, he wandered out to his porch with a microphone, amplifier and lap steel guitar. The result of his afternoon break is a twenty minute EP of slowly evolving atmospherics. The Porch Music EP is lazy lullabies for when you want to let your brain go and unwind all the kinks in your spine and back.
Brian says this isn't his normal thing: more of an idle afternoon spent testing tones and looping sounds to their elastic point. Two of the tracks, "Verdant" and "Stall Sighting," are just a bit over two minutes long and they are short Frippertronic-type meditations on a single melodic phrase. The longest of the five tracks, "Graham Bell," wanders in slowly like the fog drifting across the bay in the early morning, slowly devouring the headland and the anchored ships. Chords begin to be stacked in layers, their decaying edges fading into a swirling eddy of open sound as the lap steel works towards the closest semblance any track on the EP has to an actual peak experience. "West" falls somewhere between the two edges of the spectrum: tones stretching like sticky clouds across a lavendar sky while a tenous breath of a loop structure propels the track towards the horizon.
"Duquaine" is the real standout track though, a slowly evolving duet between Brian's slumbering guitar and the cheerful birds in his front lawn. Deftly weaving the field recording of the avian song into the mix of his slow tone guitar, he creates a piece that will easily transport you out of your meat space into another place. "Duquaine" alone is worth your time; the fact that the rest of the Porch Music EP is such delightful bliss is a total bonus.
Now I need to go shake the Paypal tree and see if I can't free up enough scratch to leave a little something in the tip jar. It's generous that Brian is giving his solitary musings away for free, but he's got to power all the gear in the studio somehow.
Funki Porcini - Fast Asleep
The cover of Funki Porcini's new record Fast Asleep depicts a sleeping woman resting on a large rug surrounded by a towering array of electronic equipment: reel-to-reel tape machines, keyboards, synthesizers, modulators, speakers, tape decks, turntables, computer terminals -- all the accoutrement of Funki Porcini's musical craft. A tabby cat watches from a small niche between two amplifier cabinets. Her sleep appears to be restful among all the potential noises which these devices could generate. Her slumber appears deep and restful. If you were to buy this record expecting to hear what you see, you would not be disappointed. This is the most delightful late night, laid back, slumbering jazz record Funki Porcini has ever done.
"The Big Sea" unfolds with brush strokes across a snare drum, a solitary upright bass walking an empty beach, an elongated synth washing ashore. All of these elements drift past through the expansive intro until the string quartet, rhythm section, and keyboard player all join in to take you for a long journey across the open waves. A harp spills notes into your wake, a cascading wash which follows you.
Once you reach land again, there is a car waiting to take you away into the hills. It sits on the shingle, engine puttering gently. There is an organ player behind the wheel and the manner in which drives fills your head with the sprightly sound of the pipes. "We're out of here," he says and off you go, bouncing and rattling across the roads. You can hear his pipes all the way as you rest in the back, staring out at the clouds overhead.
A trio of sad trumpets populates "Sleepy," two providing answer to the lead's melancholy tune. A snare and bass fill out the sound, the whole tune coming to you through an old Victrola speaker, static and all. Early evening slumber music to soften your head while you wait -- slumped over in an comfy chair, bow-tie half-tied, shoes off, drink in your hand -- for the dinner guests to arrive. You dream of the end of the evening.
"The Great Drive By" passes in slow motion, a pulsating soundtrack to the last moments in which the city skyline are visible from the car. Night cloaks the city, the lights sprawling like an unorganized field of Christmas lights. You know most of the residents are sleeping, their dreams filling up the streets and alleys, but you are leaving, the restless rhythm of the drum kit propelling you away from your life in the city. A guitar tickles your ear, a last echo of a love you once had. You look back once more. The city fades. Like a dream.
"Last Night over Norway" is a minute and a half of flight over the Nordic country, a too-brief piano and synthesizer duet that sounds like Vangelis dueling Röyksopp in the lounge of the aircraft. Not that most aircraft have lounges but, you know, you're still dreaming so it all works.
There is no point in trying to wake. Funki Porcini has you covered. The 14 tracks on Fast Asleep are meant for any possible combination of sleep deficiencies. Sore backs, night terrors, jet lag, restless wandering feet, noisy neighbors -- none of them matter. There's at least one track, probably more, which will set you right. Atmosphere is king and this record deserves the crown.
Bonus for the insomniacs: There's an eight track DVD included which sets six of the songs on Fast Asleep to visuals done by Funki Porcini and Team Alcohol. A great disc made better with stunning visual accompaniment.
Jason Forrest - Shamelessly Exciting
Jason Forrest, aka Donna Summer, slices and dices a ton of old records on Shamelessly Exciting, culling material equally from disco, punk, arena rock, and the prog heavyweights of the '70s. The two minutes of "My 36 Favorite Punk Songs" are exactly that -- a Frankensteinian reconstruction of the year punk stormed the stages of England. Forrest collides Blondie, IDM bleeps, and Spanish guitar together in "New Wave Folk Austerity," throws an infamous Joan Jett sample and steel drums into a breakbeat blender for "Dust Never Sleeps," and welds big James Bond-era theme music, escalating airplane noises, and a mangled Neil Young guitar solo to a Venetian Snares-style drum 'n bass cacophony for "Evil Doesn't Exist Anymore." It's shamelessly referential, but his granular cut-and-paste engenders equally shameless reverence.
Thomas Fehlmann - Lowflow
Thomas Fehlmann, a rotating member of the Orb, floats through a number of styles with Lowflow, ghosting through minimal glitch dub, vaporous house, sly downtempo, and the foundation-rattling thump of a subwoofer buried in the trunk of a passing car. "Hana" channels the spirit of that goofy yellow Flat Eric puppet, while "Slinky" is haunted by the eidolon of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. The driving beat of "Prefab" is interrupted by squirts of noise, a steel drum band, and a bass line that feels like it was nicked from Jack Dangers' studio. Fehlmann doesn't set the world on fire with this record; he just builds a steady flow that effortlessly combines Berlin's breathless fascination with static, Detroit's love of four-on-the-floor techno, and Hollywood's obsession with layered filters that turn sunlight into liquid gold.
- F -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina