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Marsen Jules - Herbstlaub

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Artist: Marsen Jules

Album: Herbstlaub

Label: City Centre Offices

Review date: Jun. 8, 2005

These are seasonal symphonies (“Herbstlaub” translates into English as “Autumn Leaves”). It is a walk through dense woodland, glimpses of sunray pushing though a canopy of golden leaves overhead, reflecting off the mirrored surface of a stream as it winds its way between guardian rocks. Firmly established in the worlds of dance and electronica, Dortmund-based musician Martin Juhls, now operates under the moniker of Marsen Jules to sculpt one of the most lush and rewarding albums of the year, all the more remarkable as Herbstlaub is his first foray in this guise.

His juxtaposition of sampled classical instrumentation and live electronic and string sounds may not be a new idea, but what it lacks in innovation it more than compensates for in terms of warmth and an ability to eddy the waters of nostalgia. Obvious reference points would be the Stars of the Lid, Fennesz and those clutch of artists gathered around the Kompakt label’s Pop Ambient series. Like the music of those performers, the line between digital and acoustic instrumentation is blurred, allowing for no distractions from its calming embrace.

Slow chromatic string cascades play over breathy synth chords, while distant raindrop piano punctuations add a melancholic touch. It all unfolds at snail’s pace (“Aile D’Aigle” is the Chariots Of Fire soundtrack run on zero gravity), but comes on like the first blossoming buds of spring. Each of the six pieces is just a movement upon a single theme, merging seamlessly into one joyous swell. Only “Tous Les Coeurs De Cette Terre” suggests that everything is not perfect in this sonic idyll. Plucked harps strings scuttle anxiously, while tape hiss and dark clouds of sound manifest themselves in an atmosphere of unresolved tension – a harbinger of some unknown peril to come.

Herbstlaub is a breathtaking achievement for an artist opening a new seam of exploration. One only hopes that Juhls can stay away from the dance floor long enough to produce more of this divine music.

By Spencer Grady

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