Fennesz’s first proper solo album in six years is advertised as his follow-up to Endless Summer, which was released a whole thirteen years ago. Does nothing matter that has happened since ? Does this?
Christian Fennesz’s name floats around in a pool of artists who many consider highly influential but are perhaps nowadays kind of “old school.” We’re talking about the modern legends of ambient/drone music, names like William Basinski, Tim Hecker, Stars of the Lid, Philip Jeck, Taylor Deupree, so on and so forth. While many of those artists continue churning out the gems (not to say there’s not a misstep here and there…), the unintentionally backhanded compliment on the PR sheet about Bécs regarding it as the “conceptual follow-up” to Endless Summer is highlighting the belief that Fennesz’s last two albums (Venice and The Black Sea) haven’t really aged that well. No sane person would argue that Endless Summer isn’t a landmark album, but by the mid to late ’00s Fennesz had been quickly dethroned by newer, more exciting artists like Ben Frost, Sasu Ripatti, Aidan Baker, thisquietarmy, and others. He’s turned to many collaborations in this span, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s still been over a decade since Fennesz has released something we’ve really been excited about. Enter Bécs.
Claiming that this album is a “return to form” incorrectly assumes that Fennesz’s music stays in one place for very long. While it’s true that it’s likely the closest we’ve seen him to his Endless Summer days, Fennesz’s career is defined by a musical curiosity which catapults him from one project to the next; as such, when bogged down in the minutia, as seen on his Touch experiments, the audience can feel neglected among the sparse landscapes (to be contrasted quite starkly, for example, by an entity like Stars of the Lid, who operates in the complete opposite manner). It’s when Fennesz is daring to go maximal that the audience is blown away by the creative effusion. Indeed, Endless Summer succeeded because Fennesz hit the secret formula of making the weird sound enticing; this is the same dogma we find on Bécs, which should on be played on maximum volumes where every spike and prick of static receives the full attention is deserves.
Although it feels cliche to say it, Bécs sounds like Fennesz “rock” album. It’s loud, abrasive, has some tracks that appear to form their own identity, and — most importantly — it just sounds fun. It’s probably been awhile since something like that could be said of an album of this type; Daniel Lopatin is kooky at best, Hecker is always academic and plotting… Petrels or Emeralds may come closest (though the latter obviously weren’t having enough fun). The trio of tracks “Liminality,” “Pallas Athene,” and “Bécs” may just be the best twenty minutes of music we’ll year all year long. But, most importantly, we’ve discovered that there’s still some untapped genius left to explore here.