- Cinematic jungle and ambient noir on this punchy compilation of '90s cuts.
- Christoph De Babalon's music often courts the extreme, but its bleak drama owes a lot to holding things back. Take the German artist's first EP on Fischkopf. Where most producers on the Hamburg label were making graphic, on-the-nose hardcore (one 1995 release was titled I Cum Blood) De Babalon managed to "express darkness and terror" through more suggestive means: nauseating tones, sulphur-plumed ambience, frayed VHS dialogue. On Exquisite Angst, a set of rare or previously unreleased tracks made between 1993 and 1998, De Babalon's grim atmospheres loom large. "Gaseous Invertebrate," an 80-second ambient piece, immediately recalls the overgrown wildlife and damp concrete shells of The Zone, Andrei Tarkovsky's allegory for doubt and suspicion.
What many would encounter as despair De Babalon feels instead as "Some sort of melancholic longing. A sea of tears, a universe of sadness, a romantic apocalypse." That's clearest on the smog-filled ambient of "Alpenglühen," whose bitter strings crack with yearning and regret. "Meditate"'s choir vocals and birds-of-paradise ambience summon a similarly tainted beauty. But more often than not, Exquisite Angst is squalid stuff. "Realistic Riot Ritual Routine"'s vocal sample—"use minimum force at all times to keep order"—sounds like a line from a police ethics manual, which is followed by harsh breaks that seem to mock that call to restraint. "Kirchengänger"'s breathless drums and sour cello strings bring to mind a life-or-death sprint through a piss-slicked alley.
The overlap between Exquisite Angst and If You're Into It, I'm Out Of It, De Babalon's revered 1997 LP, is pretty clear. The decayed sound, the self-possessed attitude, the regal nihilism—Exquisite Angst, even at 36-minutes long, has plenty of that. You might have noticed the two windows on the sleeve, and which one De Babalon is stood by. A few shafts of light make it onto Exquisite Angst, too. "Leave Me In The Autumn"'s woodsy synth leads and live-sounding kit are surprisingly tender. If "Valediction"'s Don't DJ-esque flute lines and synth voices seem to express relief, the eerie mood implies that it might have come at a heavy cost. It's no happy ending, but in a "universe of sadness" it's close enough.
01. Gaseous Invertebrate
03. Realistic Riot Ritual Routine
04. Leave Me In The Autumn
05. Are You Talking To Me?
07. Marble Stairs