Fenin: Been Through

[1 September 2008]

By Timothy Gabriele

Been Through is a compelling name for an album.  It sounds ruggedly autobiographical, intimate, and devoid of sheen or showmanship.  It’s depressing, then, that the title is wasted on this tepid dub techno outing by German DJ Fenin. 

Fenin’s ideals are positive enough, a sort of globally minded cathexis of minimalist bass and body music for the masses.  But his broader mindset can’t seem to interpolate a just mixture of disparate styles beyond just layering them on top of one another.  Fenin brings in Ghanaian singer Gorbi for a few tracks and seems to expect his dulcet voice to be somehow transformative in and of itself.  “A Try”, the record’s closest contender for a single, saddles the singer atop some pretty backwards-masked piano loops, but there’s not much for his Finley Quaye-style soul croon to get excited about, even when Fenin undercuts the thin percussion by snipping off lyrical soundbites and tinkering with them in the echodrome.  Gorbi’s performance sounds hushed when it seeks to be dire (or at least affective), as if recorded in a studio apartment with a sleeping baby beyond the slender walls.  This holds as well on the rubbery and infelicitous cover of “Red Wine” (written by Neil Diamond, popularized by Tony Tribe, desecrated by UB40) and “Complain”, whose gaunt coatings of sonics sound like they are cozying the blow of an a cappella performance, rather than complementing guest vocalist Scorcha’s scorched-earth verses. 

Perhaps most unforgivable on an album like this is the bass and percussion.  It’s kind of amazing how elements so central to an album (and one that treats melody as almost inconsequential, no less!) can come off so muddled, in terms of the bass, or so irresolvable to the functionality of the song, in terms of the clicky, oft-demure drums.

There are a few redeeming spots which save the endeavor from total failure, such as “Miles and More”, where the tensions found within a normal pop track, presumed to be a non-issue throughout most of Been Through truly doesn’t matter and the hypnotic rhythm can just swing back and forth like a pendulum, catching the listener on the way.  “Dub Eraldo” likewise contains an enclave of Chain Reaction space amidst fluctuating blippy stardust, as does the Deepchord ambient exploration of “So Weit So Gut”, but both tracks are too self-constrained.  They need more leg room to allow the listener the same kind of full-body surrender that their luminaries insist upon.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/fenin-been-through/