[14 January 2008]
Two years after the landmark breakcore symphony of Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett, Winnipeg’s Aaron Funk has returned with a proper follow-up. Naturally, it’s not the first Venetian Snares release since then: he has maintained his usual hectic schedule with two EPs, two LPs, a 10” and, arguably, the ambiguously authored Last Step album in the interim. But as for the confirmed full-lengths, the pitch-black gabber assault of Meathole was more properly a continuation of the “evil” sounds of Doll Doll Doll and Find Candace, and Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom-Poms was more of a playful digression, combining some of Rossz‘s orchestral composition with the furious drum programming and amusing sampling forays of past efforts like Chocolate Wheelchair. For a return to the cinematic darkness and grandeur of Rossz, possibly Funk’s greatest achievement to date, we had to wait for My Downfall.
As with its predecessor, My Downfall is a meticulous exercise in constructing intricate and expansive classical music from some indistinguishable combination of careful sample manipulation and live instrumentation, then inundating the results in heavy drum and bass programming. Funk’s purely classical forays, of which there are many percussionless examples displayed here, tend to either reprise the sounds of Rossz, majestic and steeped in melancholy (opener “Colorless”, which has the distinction of introducing the choir motifs that appear throughout the album), or, in a departure closer to a few of Funk’s unaccompanied piano pieces of the past, to be choppy and joltingly dissonant (much of the “Hollo Utca” series). The new album also differs slightly from its predecessor in the complete lack of sampled voice, and in a slightly heavier use of overt electronics, bringing in a few synthetic melodies beyond simply Rossz‘s hard-stepping basslines. The drum programming itself should be familiar, seemingly derived, as before, almost entirely from a frenetic Venetian Snares take on classic jungle programming and the amen break, without resorting to his usual arsenal of distorted gabber drums or sharpened metallic noise. The final difference is simply one of focus: My Downfall live up to its tongue-in-cheek Original Sountrack designation with a heavier focus on the percussionless pieces, 10 of 14 to Rossz‘s five of 11.
Venetian Snares, as indicated by the very moniker, has long been concerned primarily with drums, so the instrumental focus here is somewhat surprising. Indeed, while he continues to be one of the finest drum-programmers in the business, Funk’s instrumentals tend to be skillful exercises in seamless sample manipulation, but probably wouldn’t hold listeners’ attention on their own. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with them. “Colorless” serves as a fine mood-setting introduction, and “Room 379” moves gracefully from bleak choir to grandly sweeping march in under two minutes. But they’ve got to meet tough expectations after the integrated orchestral beauty and spine-snapping percussive assaults we’ve heard before.
Fittingly, it is “Integraation” that most effectively speaks for the four drum-driven tracks. After a slow opening, the first breaks leap in over ascending strings and the arrangement begins an insatiable process of ramping up. This is mostly done through increasingly more devastating bass synth, each new line more distorted than the last, yet still never overpowering the other elements. It’s like Rossz‘s “Masodik Galamb”, except without ever giving way to complete gabber overkill. “The Hopeless Pursuit of Remission” introduces crisp acid lines to the mix without ever overlooking its orchestrations, but still tends to add little to the templates set by Rossz. Those acid designs get picked up more skillfully later in the brooding “My Half”, which is also punctuated by sharp vinyl cuts and discordant stabs of synth. The fourth and final appearance of Venetian Snares’ eponymous element are on “My Crutch”, which manages some of the disc’s stronger melodic themes. Together, these four highlights would make a solid 12”. Here they get a little lost in the instrumentals and may inspire judicious use of the skip button.
My Downfall, though a welcome continuation of Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett, lacks the full epochal freshness of that album’s innovations, and tends to obscure them a little in somewhat less striking material. A few elements have been added, a few removed, but on the whole it’s fairly familiar ground. Still, removed from the expectations created by Rossz, it’s a masterful synthesis of aggression and beauty. Removed from the expectations of being a Venetian Snares album, it’s nearly unbelievable. New listeners would be advised to start with Rossz, but they should hardly be underwhelmed were they to enter with the latest. Old listeners should be well-satisfied, if not driven to the same fever pitch of two years prior, but I suppose that’s the role rightfully occupied by career pinnacles: to be frequently referenced, and rarely matched.