Given the immersive quality of his music, it makes sense that Fennesz has a thing for water. From Hotel Paral.lel on, it figures on the cover of every solo studio album; even the landlocked train station that adorns Plus forty seven degrees 56’ 37" minus sixteen degrees 51’ 08" looks decidedly humid, shrouded in mist. On his last – and least involving – long player Venice, the symbolism got pretty heavy-handed. In case you didn’t know how to match up the music’s decadent dolor, a picture of battered rowboats, and the jewel of old Europe, singer David Sylvian was on hand to wish the continent and its culture goodbye in tones that made you want to hand the guy some Pepto Bismol.
So what to make of Black Sea, which shares names with an inland body of salt water on the edge of Europe and Asia? The climate-conscious might note that some of the same forces that are sinking Venice – melting ice and rising oceans – may have formed the Black Sea in a cataclysmic rush of water that some theorists like to believe gave rise to the legend of Noah’s Ark. Or maybe Fennesz just likes XTC.
Titular queries aside, Black Sea reconciles Fennesz’s contradictory tendencies towards concealment and clarity. If you happened to catch him live in the years leading up to Endless Summer‘s release, you might recall the thrill of finding his sweet tunes buried under a blizzard of pixilated electronic fuzz. With Endless Summer, he surrendered to his inner pop musician and the tunes overtook the noise; on Venice, tunes and overtly-played guitars overtook the computer-generated rush of sound. The low tide image on the cover Black Sea suggests that this process of covering and uncovering is cyclical, and the music bears it out by adding a welcome bit of noise and depth to some stately and slowly evolving melodies. On “Perfume For Winter,” for example, puffs of static and digitally distressed acoustic guitar notes bounce off low feedback swoops and a quivering synth melody, giving it a three-dimensional quality. But then the music dissolves into a churchy organ theme, and just as quickly morphs into a stately guitar theme. The filmic dissolve presents Fennesz, who in the past has appeared with improvisers like Keith Rowe and certain other gentlemen of the guitar, as an accomplished composer.
Even so, the record’s best moment was born of spontaneous combustion. “Glide” is a live duet with New Zealander Rosy Parlane. Wrapping what sounds like orchestral samples in barbed wreaths of guitar noise, they build to a crescendo that’s as big and shameless as From Here To Eternity. After it rolls over you, the music once more dissolves, this time to near-silence, and makes what’s come before seem even more momentous. It’s one of the best things Fennesz has ever done, and a fittingly oceanic addition to his virtually aquatic oeuvre.