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27 October 2014

Fennesz - 'Endless Summer' (Mego)

This felt like a groundbreaking record when it came out, and probably represents my peak interest in whatever this genre was. I see it's been reissued since as a deluxe double LP edition so clearly it has some sort of place in history. By 2001 I had seen Christian Fennesz live a few times, and for a guy bent over a laptop he had the most performative presence I've still probably ever seen in, well, whatever this genre was. Endless Summer, as its title indicates, has a warmth and organic quality that doesn't jar with the 'glitches' and electronic crackle, but rather works with the qualities of that sound to complement the language of laptop-experimentalism. From the get-go, 'Made in Hongkong', Fennesz throws the listener into wet, warm tonalities with a burning digital ebb and flow. The achievement of Endless Summer is not the fact that it's trying to capture the same feeling as the Beach Boys or surf music, but rather that it is such a cohesive, expressive statement. The acoustic guitar strums on 'A Year in a Minute' have the languid quality of some of the Jeweled Antler pop bands or Dylan's more stoned moments, and it's remarkable that they achieve such a harmony with the gargling, folding-in-upon-itself undertow that is constantly fighting for air here. This type of wet electronic comfort (which I often associate with the Leaf label -- see the Eardrum review) can easily create a bath of thick mid-rangey tones, which can feel easy at times, like ear candy This doesn't hide it's digital manipulations - the pulsing of 'Before I Leave' is relentless, even annoying at times, and maybe the one track that feels out of place. But Fennesz is seeking new feelings, combining the familiar with the other, and this occasionally produces an exotica vibe ('Shisheido'), as if Les Baxter was being updated for the digital age. Repetition is present, nearly to the point of insanity on the lengthy closer 'Happy Audio', and this type of minimalism feels strangely maximal. Around the turn of the millennium we were lucky to find a lot of (mostly European) electronic artists trying to move away from the beats that characterise dance tracks, instead finding an affinity with post-rock by focusing on textures, colour, etc. I don't know how people more knowledgeable about this genre would feel about me lumping Fennesz in with Pole, Gas, or Oval, but to a young rocker seeking new musical languages, this stuff was magical. It's faded from my memory even though there's no shortage of great music being made today that picks up from where this left off. These descendants may be the proof of the eternity promised by the title of Endless Summer.

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