Felder, Jan St. Werner's latest solo record, is impressively expansive. But for all its challenging experimentation, the album is surprising comforting listen.
Jan St. Werner -- whether working on his own, in Mouse on Mars, or as Lithops -- is unpredictable. His Fiepblatter series of releases, which Felder is part of, is a complex set of recordings, from the scuffed, thorny experiments of Blaze Colour Burn to Miscontinuum Album, which was based on an operatic live performance, the releases themselves seem to have nothing to do with each other. So it's hard to see what ties the series together.
Part of the joy of Felder is that it does nothing to solve that confusion. In fact, it doubles down on it. The album's name is German for "fields" and full of tracks that expand out in all directions, more overtly experimental than those on Miscontinuum Album but also more wide-open than Blaze Colour Burn. The album runs nearly an hour and seems to hint at several tangents in St. Werner's career while also adding some new wrinkles to his sound. He remains a difficult musician to pin down, and yet Felder is -- like so many of its predecessors in St. Werner's career -- fascinating and self-assured.
Felder plays like a collection that needs to be heard on vinyl, sequenced to have two distinct halves, each with its own centerpiece. The first half centers around "Kroque AF", a 14-minute epic of experimentation. It squawks and squeals its way to life, pulsing at first with feedback and static. The track slowly takes shape, though, trading that opening grit for watery synth notes surrounded by seemingly endless negative space. The use of space here, of silence, makes each ethereal note seem more physical, more concrete. This sets the stage for a dynamic, noisy second half, where any negative space is filled with a dense fog of sounds, some throbbing and steady, others quick whiplash blasts of noise. It's the most challenging track on the record, but also an essential one, because it connects perfectly to the dark uses of space in the beautiful opener "Beardman" and with the softer but still edgy groans of "Osho".
The first half of the record is all about puncturing space with a series of sonic barbs. The second half warms up the tones some, building around the excellent "The Somewhere that Is Moving". The song's first half beds down on a layer of treated, ambient keys, that get only faintly upset by howling brass notes in the background. The song cuts off in the middle, interrupted by a human voice -- saying "thank you very much" -- before the song starts up again. Now, it's all clean piano phrasings, the organic notes clashing with all the electronic production that preceded them. Though the song swells up in hazy layers again, it's that sweet, simple piano that acts as connective tissue in Felder. "Slipped Through Heaven" runs with that piano, clanging it up against snippets of guitar and other atmospheric layers that feel as much like free-jazz as they do electronic music. Later in the record, "Singoth" offers a new distortion of jazz, melding horns and feedback together into an aching, mechanized love cry.
The second half of the record hardly settles down -- check the tough, dark spaces of "The Abstract Pit" -- but it acts as a foil for the first half, suggesting warm undertones that run across the entire record even at its most sparse and challenging. Felder is an album about stretching out, but it's also about echoing back and forth across that created expanse. You could argue that's what St. Werner has been doing his entire career, each album a new stone with its own ripples that distort and muddle the ripples that came before. Felder may not have much in common sonically with the other Fiepblatter records, but there's enough faint echoes to see distant links. If this is part of a series, it's finest, most expansive and rewarding record of that series. But despite this album's title, Jan St. Werner has always built islands, not fields. But whether connected of standing on its own, Felder is a challenging experiment and yet an endlessly rewarding, even comforting, listen.