Pantha du Prince tests the limits of minimal house music on his first album in six years.
Pantha du Prince’s sleepy new album The Triad reaches far beyond the nebulous boundaries of ambient music, a genre which is widely misunderstood to be best used as background noise rather than for active listening, but in the course of the record’s long strands of repetitive rhythms and stilted melodies, it’s that hazy veil of atmosphere -- the soft, long resonance of the chimes, the rumbling undertones of the percussion, the sustaining waves of background synthesizers -- that lends the album its character, and so it’s this ambience that defines The Triad.
The record is Hendrik Weber’s first solo album under the Pantha du Prince name in six years, but while those kinds of details typically inspire anticipation for a final product that’s been long in the making, The Triad is not the type of album that holds up to any enthusiastic hype. It’s tone is quiet and tender, reserved beyond the point of typical downtempo standards, and its 10 long songs are agonizingly, excruciatingly tranquil. It’s a record that mutes listeners’ excitement by design.
This is typical of chillout music, which nudges down the tempo and frenzy of conventional house club jams, but Weber hits another level of languid dance music on The Triad. “Lions”, a drowsy mid-tempo boogie with an evolving atmosphere that serves as the track’s lone sense of progression, acts as a quintessential illustration of Pantha du Prince’s M.O. for this album and those beyond. The lurching beat is a bit too understated to dance to, but it’s groovy enough to get you to move in place. At the same time, the melodies are hidden, their delayed reverberations more audible than the dry instrumentation. Weber rides on the back of the same groove for seven minutes, until the song eventually grows enough to the point that the static sound of a digitized cymbal envelops the rest of the track, and then it slowly dies out until it’s over. It’s a deftly designed crescendo, but where does it ultimately lead?
Elsewhere, Weber hits on more conventional territory, as with “You What? Euphoria!”, which carries the album’s heftiest groove with a funky, dance-ready electronic beat and awkward bell melodies. “Chasing Vapour Trails” recalls reference points of classic chillout music, its deadened dance feel and somber vocal refrain unburying the dormant, translucent bliss of progenitors like “Poor Leno” from Röyksopp’s 2001 downtempo benchmark Melody A.M., the primary difference between the two lying in the contrast between the latter’s status as an inarguably danceable pop-house track and the former’s relentless ascent into ultimate directionlessness. It’s a prime example of Weber sacrificing the crucial visceral pleasure of dance music for an ephemeral moodiness. It’s hit-or-miss.
During the album’s midpoint, “Lichterschmaus”, one comes to the realization that Weber is repeating himself, not only in spirit, but in terms of actually reusing and adapting musical phrases and sounds already well-worn throughout The Triad (the song’s unrelenting chime pattern bears an unfavorable resemblance to similar bell phrases used in at least three of the record’s previous five tracks). In “Dream Yourself Awake”, he does more or less the same by transplanting a familiar melodic line onto a more novel synth patch -- lower pitched, muted with a pluckier tone -- to the point that it could conceivably be a minimalist remixing of its twin components in “The Winter Hymn” or “Frau im Mond, Sterne laufen”. Given Weber’s apparent attachment to the idea that each song on The Triad should focus itself on the development of one or a few loosely formulated patterns, the reappearance of these elements between tracks makes the already narrowly envisioned record a bit tedious to sift through.
At over an hour long with just 10 tracks, The Triad is built from moments of refined beauty stretched across a frame that might be just too big, its many slow moments shrouded behind gradual shifts in its dense fog of ambient noise. The appearance of finger-plucked guitars on the album’s closing ballad, “Wallflower for Pale Saints”, finally lends some variety to The Triad’s monotone essence, but Weber uses even these to prolong the sentiment longer than necessary, and so his light, dreamy album ends with the heavy burden of fatigue.