Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Cendre' by Fennesz/Sakamoto

Between 2002 and 2006, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto released two albums and an EP of exquisite collaborations on Germany's Raster-Noton label. Sakamoto's sparse, cautious piano phrases were fed through Noto's laptop – sometimes left almost intact, sometimes folded or shredded, sometimes examined closely you could hear nothing but a hum or a drone. I don't usually have much interest in the post-electronic solo piano revival that Boomkat's been pimping for a couple of years, but these works – not in spite of, but because of, their enigmatic minimalism – were inexhaustible stores of glitchy beauty.

So after the success of Vrioon, Insen, and Revep, Vienna's Christian Fennesz was probably a logical new collaborator for Sakamoto; but, personally, I've always been baffled by the adoration that Fennesz's 2001 LP Endless Summer seems to receive. Maybe I just don't like the Beach Boys enough. So although, to me, Cendre never even approaches the extraordinary heights of Sakamoto's work with Noto, you'll probably like it a lot better if you're not as deaf as me to Fennesz's sunburnt charms. Plus, it's bad form to compare people's new partners to their old ones too much.

But I will anyway. Insen was laboratory-clean – the merging of the two instruments was so frictionless, you almost weren't sure if you were listening to a computer processing a piano, or a piano processing a computer. Cendre has a less rarefied palette, with crackles of distortion and swirling strums from Fennesz's acoustic guitar; Fennesz seems to be less of a remixer than Noto was, adding more sounds of his own. But too often, as a result, Sakamoto's melodies float by in the background, when they ought to be the focus. (His playing, too, seems more ponderous, although I'll stop there before I wade out of my depth.) Where those previous collaborations were fearlessly minimal, this one is more conventionally ambient, and so never has the same impact. Still, here we have two performers with unique, unmistakeable sounds coming together yet a third unique, unmistakeable sound - and that, at least, is always a delight to hear.


Out now on Touch.

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