- Christian Fennesz's newest record opens with the seaside cries of coastal birds. The calls don't fade into the wind; they are devoured by chaos—a squall of machine-bits and canine growl—before settling into quiet lunar ambience. It's a series of moments almost artless, strangely disconnected, in the way they sew together Fennesz's intentions on Black Sea. As though seconds of keen awareness are followed, in due course, by a kind of blissful nullity, a numbing deaf sound heard best in what the ear's really missing. Following last year's Touch collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cendre—on which Fennesz's talent for discordant beauty was backseated by Sakamoto's dark, stately piano playing—Black Sea is Fennesz's first proper solo record since 2004's Venice.
The first thing you may notice about Black Sea is just how gravelly it sounds; the record's first half is Fennesz's noisiest, most disorienting work in years. Melodies and shimmers of song occur less frequently, appearing only in brief cloud-split moments that open up blue within dense, prickly textures. Fennesz seems to be working, for the most part, with a buzz and hush dialectic, with freer and more prominent exchanges between loud/soft dynamics. "The Color of Three" almost stings, its sharp beehive drone coming in bursts of dissonance and amplified white crackle. "Black Sea" uses this small thunder more gently, wearing at the edges of acoustic guitar and wind-howl bell tones with noises like a small engine clattering. With its tiny peastone symphony of strings and a slow dinning push, perhaps "Glide" most resembles the Fennesz of Endless Summer; it's one of the record's more patient creations, invoking the vaulted choir-spaces of a composer like Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Thinking back to its opening though, the first seaward sounds of Black Sea not only set out its visual tapestry. They mark its largesse. This is his most oceanic record to date, not for its timbre but for his mammoth, wide-vista approach to each composition; it's as if you're hearing something far too big from far too close, and it's difficult to decide what to focus on 'til something moves first. Gone for so much of its most important moments are the song-structures and direct appeals of both Endless Summer and Venice.
Standout and album closer "Saffron Revolution" and "Grey Scale" have vague Celtic undercurrents to their acoustic guitars and the latter's foggy ambience and hazy shifts in tone. But they're more nuanced and sometimes undetermined in their patterns, and this lack of shape and form may make it difficulty at first for some fans, especially those of his work post-2001. Ultimately though, it's hard to imagine they won't come to love Black Sea, perhaps much like a parent for a child of often unknowable temperaments, more cherished for his moodiness, his difficulty.
01. Black Sea
02. The Colour of Three
03. Perfume for Winter
04. Grey Scale
07. Glass Ceiling
08. Saffron Revolution