Pure celebrations of sound -- something that is beautiful in its aesthetic, lively in its delivery, and leaves a profound feeling of exuberance with each listener -- are a rare find in today's music world. This intangible something was achieved with My Bloody Valentine's landmark album Loveless, Fennesz's gorgeous Endless Summer, and Bjork's recent Vespertine record. Though not as illustrious or memorable as the three abovementioned albums, Ulrich Schnauss ascends to one of music's glorious heights with A Strangely Isolated Place.
First released through Berlin's excellent City Centre Offices label last year, Domino Records has now adopted A Strangely Isolated Place -- Schnauss' second full-length -- giving it a wider distribution and an official stateside release. The music itself is as sparkling and joyous as it was last year, with Schnauss collecting bits and pieces from IDM, Boards of Canada, shoegaze, electronica, and My Bloody Valentine and crafting them into soaring songs that reinvigorate many electronic-based genres while transcending them altogether. The eight tracks present on Isolated are each swathed in elated soundscapes that are also grounded with a dynamic use of rhythm and percussion, as well as an ardent sense of melodic finesse. And, unlike nearly every release tagged as "electronica", Schnuass never relies on the style's clichés, such as glitches or DSP effects.
Another of Isolated's strengths lies in its ability to coalesce into a seamless whole, while allowing each track to augment the album with a unique angle and a sonic character all its own. "On My Own", for example, implants a strong sense of groove with a bass line that could fit in on any dancefloor beneath the song's elevating, upbeat drones and beats. "Clear Day" approximates its title with layers of interlocking melodies and gorgeous, sun-drenched washes of shimmering sound.
Despite each track featuring little or no vocal accompaniment, the compositions never feel underdeveloped or incomplete, as the instrumental ambience, textures, rhythmic interplay, minimal drones, and soaring melodies pack enough sound into Isolated that each moment is bursting with life and vivacity. Furthermore, the album never looses touch with humanity, as the wall of sound that Schnauss employs is always so warm and lush that you become enveloped in the sonic atmosphere and find yourself getting lost in Isolated's breathtaking layers of sound.
Akin to My Bloody Valentine's "When You Sleep" if it had been translated by electronica, or Fennesz remixing a Slowdive track, A Strangely Isolated Place is not without its sonic precedents, but its true magic lies in its aptitude to slice apart its influences and create something wholly original in the process. Blissful and celebratory, Ulrich Schnauss has crafted a nearly flawless album that rests as the soundtrack to the perfect summer.