Six years ago Christian Fennesz took his music in a surprising direction. The Austrian experimentalist had flirted with signs that he was, in fact, a guitarist, in various forms on his prior releases, but like IDM-contemporaries Electric Company around that time, little of what could be considered “guitar” in any traditional sense was allowed through. Instead, whatever the source material, Fennesz’s results were, for the most part, sheer (beautiful, frightening) noise. Even when he flirted with pop music as, in the “covers” of the Plays EP, the results were nothing that either of the covered bands, the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones, could have foreseen. In fact, for licensing purposes, the compositions were treated not as covers at all, but as original compositions.
And so Fennesz’s surprise turn of 2001, with Endless Summer, was to allow his guitar work to break through at last, often even carrying a discernible melody. The noise was still always there, sprouting around the edges if not in constant bloom, and the melodies still wilted and sank back into the ground as often as they bore fruit, but it was a marked change. For many, it was a marked improvement; the greater pop-sense opened up the beauty of noise to the more traditional beauty of melodic timbre. Listeners who had never before shown an interest in such things found themselves delving deeper, or at least entertaining the possibility of delving deeper, into the once-impenetrable back-catalogue of the Austrian noise-purveyors at Mego. And then the next Fennesz album continued the trajectory into pure ambient texture, and the moment was lost. Endless Summer was the most pivotal, most accessible, and most strikingly unique point in the Fennesz catalogue so far, and one of the more influential noise albums of the early decade.
I suppose that an expanded reissue, then, is a natural choice, but only six years after the initial release it seems a little premature. The shockwaves of the original release are still being felt, in the processed guitar of Nick Forte, and the melody-under-ether of the most recent efforts from former Mego-labelmate Florian Hecker, and it seems as though a few more years could lend greater perspective on Fennesz’s ongoing impact. But then, it seems that the reissue was more a decision of necessity than marketing: the album has been out of print since Mego closed its doors at the end of 2005. As such, Endless Summer was released by Editions Mego, a new imprint created by Mego’s Peter Rehberg both to maintain the back catalogue and cultivate new work. And in light of that, the minor changes of the new edition, which would be meager inducement for old fans to buy a new copy, are more understandable. Fennesz’s new mixdown for the album, quieter but more spacious and allowing the songs slightly more room to breath, is an improvement, but can be a difficult one to spot. And the two additional tracks included at the end, are ultimately unnecessary, especially in light of the original release’s impeccable sequencing.
Six years later, that sequencing, and those tracks, hold up just fine on their own. “Made In Hong Kong” is still as soothingly abrasive (abrasively soothing?) and anchors the album back to Fennesz’s older, more abstract excursions into sound design. It also provides a favorable contrast to the climax of the title tracks’ variations on a half-heard theme, when its gauzy guitar chords, indistinct behind static sheen, finally break through. The album’s “pop” palatability still peaks with the gorgeous vibraphone tones of “Caecilia” and “Before I Leave” still as effective in its CD-skip simplicity. Original closer “Happy Audio” still trudges its 10 minutes of gradual signal degradation gracefully all the way to the white noise horizon. Admittedly, the ideas are a little less fresh and surprising now that they’ve been borrowed and reworked by others, but they still don’t sound dated to an particular period. Unfortunately, the unnecessary bonus tracks mar the original album’s careful sequencing and undercut that still-excellent finish. “Badminton Girl”, never exactly a highlight of Fat Cat’s Split Series 12” collection, is especially unremarkable paired with its A-sides here. And the never-released “Endless”, while at least different enough to warrant a listen, feels unbalanced and washed out in treble.
It is good to see Endless Summer back in print, and perhaps the new edition will serve as motivation to newer ambient noise converts who have found themselves intrigued by more recent releases by Tim Hecker or Chessie, or even Fennesz himself. There’s really nothing here for the old fans, though, except the most obsessive of audiophiles to whom the new, slightly improved mixdown may be enough. I appreciate the gesture of the bonus tracks, but unfortunately, they only get in the way of an album that worked, and still works, best as a single, closed unit.
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// Notes from the Road
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