Dusted Reviews

Fenn O’Berg - The Return of Fenn O'Berg

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Fenn O’Berg

Album: The Return of Fenn O'Berg

Label: Mego

Review date: Aug. 19, 2002

More Magic Sounds...

When we last left off, I was ranting and raving about the perils of that strange creation known as the “double compact disc”. Now I am presented with the task of reviewing a trio whose mere composition represents another tricky and oft-disappointing creation: the super group. I suppose I could go on and on about my theories on music that’s created as a result of “too many cooks in the kitchen”, but a quick rundown of the pedigree involved in the electronic improv monster known simply as Fenn O’Berg will dispel any misgivings. On paper and in practice the combination of the talents and creativity of avant garde/indie rock Renaissance man Jim O’Rourke, Mego founder/proprietor and man about electronic music town Peter Rehberg (known to some as Pita and one-half of Rehberg and Bauer), and Viennese guitar-cum-Powerbook whiz (Christian) Fennesz are a musical force with which to be reckoned. And that, my friends, is a textbook case of “putting it mildly.”

This trio first surfaced a couple of years back with their awe-inspiring debut The Magic Sound of Fenn O’Berg. That record reveled in little bits and pieces of each constituent’s realm of expertise: Rehberg’s crushing digital noise and darkness, Fennesz’s slight melodies and subtle digital ambience, and O’Rourke’s ability to…well, be Jim O’Rourke, and contribute to a project in ways that are barely identifiable, but at the same time utterly necessary. Marking a welcome return to the home audio format, the three-piece now arrive with their second long player, The Return of Fenn O’Berg. Simply put, this is the best electronic record that has come out this year. But more than that, it could also be the best improv record you’ll here in this calendar year as well. Culled from two different live performances in Vienna and Paris, The Return of Fenn O’Berg isn’t just a confident sophomore release. Rather, it’s the sound of three wildly talented and creative individuals making music that is borne out of an almost innate mastery of communication.

In an instance such as this, when three heavyweights sit in the same space to work on tracks, it can seem a bit inevitable that much of the work will come out sounding like a mess, the obvious result of three highly accomplished players trying to leave their mark all over the session. This trio, however, has a higher goal in mind: achieving a singular voice and vision. In the end, the four tracks gathered here don’t sound like recognizable material from any of the three musicians. They sound like the work of one wholly separate entity. The album begins with “Floating My Boat”, a lithe little number wound around brief rhythms and slowly undulating waves of texture. The trio toy with obvious melodies here, making them more obtuse and abstract, thus leaving a lot of the listening up to the imagination. There’s more digital pops, hisses, whirs, clicks, and whizzes than you can shake a stick at here, all clamoring for space in the track, none of them sounding crowded or out of place as all three players work their way through some bit mining and carefully placed melodic sampling.

“A Viennese Tragedy” is a stirring fourteen-minute composition. It begins with a careful build to all out digital noise assault. Gradually, string samples that have been distorted and altered in other ways work themselves into the mix before giving way to more crushing noise and harsh computer ambience. The tension breaks quickly, giving way to more odd samples – a bit of typewriter, maybe something that sounds slightly like a fly buzzing around your ears, chopped up drum beats. It’s an aural collage, and like the best ones of the visual nature, this one takes its constituent parts and transforms them into something wholly new and exciting. Some hacked-up guitars subtly work their way in as well, allowing more space to be given to melody and the gloriously glitched sounds of a piano. This is, of course, all before whole-scale industrial sounds tear the piece apart. The wondrous melodies still manage to work their ways into the composition, however, gradually coming back as the track builds up again. The string samples work themselves into a frenzy as the track builds into another chaotic climax built around sheer levels of noise and melody, before dropping and allowing a long violin to waltz off, gracefully.

“Riding Again” begins with what sounds like Fennesz’s trademark melodic laptop trickery, the same sort that he worked to brilliant ends on last year’s Endless Summer. There are multiple distinctive levels of oscillating textures here, some melodic, some just noise, all of which work well together to create an intriguing series of sounds and juxtapositions. The tone shifts at points, but the overall thrust and emphasis of the track manages to remain the same. The album concludes with “We Will Diffuse You”, another ten-plus minute piece that boldly attempts to explore multiple textures, tones, and sounds within its framework. By and large, as with the rest of the album, it’s rather successful in this aim. As with a lot of the other sounds the trio work with on this record, a lot of it ends up being indescribable – sounds mined for hard drives or samples mutated beyond the point of recognition. It all ends up colliding together into one beautiful, chaotic mess – equal parts atmosphere, aggression, and simplistic melody that never seem to grate against each other.

As I was working on this review, I kept hitting walls because I just couldn’t think of words adequate enough to describe a lot of what was going on here. And that is part of the genius of this record. It’s an experimental electronic record that resists stereotypes, all the while embodying the genre’s best elements. Make no mistake about it – Christian Fennesz, Peter Rehberg, and Jim O’Rourke are three of the most talented musicians working today. This collaboration is everything you hoped these three could do in unison. Their ability to work as one harmonious unit and to collaborate and play off each other in such amazingly complementary ways makes my head spin. Simply put, this record is beautiful, amazing, frightening, outstanding, and incredible. This trio has raised the bar for experimental electronics right here, and at this point that bar is high enough that it makes me wonder what it will take to get exceed it.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Fenn O’Berg

Magic & Return

In Stereo

Read More

View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about Mego

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.