While the last couple of years have seen him collaborating with the likes of Alva Noto, Ryiuchi Sakamoto and Jim O’Rourke, it’s been a good five years since Christian Fennesz last released a solo album, his most recent one being 2014’s ‘Bécs’ on Editions Mego. Interestingly, the circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of this latest album ‘Agora’ involved Fennesz temporarily losing access to his usual studio and being forced to work in a small bedroom in his flat with minimal gear, a situation that he likens to producing his first records in the nineties.
Despite these comparative restrictions in production style however, there’s been no subsequent lessening in the characteristic textural breadth, depth and immersive atmosphere of the four expansive tracks collected here. If anything, opening track ‘In My Room’ displays the least obvious presence of guitar elements out of all of these tracks (though given Fennesz’s characteristic manipulation and processing of that source instrument into new sonic forms, it’s difficult to be certain).
Indeed, it spends its twelve and half minutes emerging from a rhythmic throb of bass sweeps that calls to mind background machinery before treated drones trail into the foreground, their waspy resonant edges buzzing and feeding back against what sounds like blurred out and pitched-down piano keys. While there’s certainly jagged edges to the synthetic processing, more than anything there’s a sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s generated, touched with a distinct undercurrent of melancholy as soft-focus synth melodies creep into the undergrowth towards the track’s second half that marks out post-rock / shoegaze as its most immediately obvious kin.
‘Rainfall’ sees a wash of ghostly background noise that almost sounds like a distant fading shortwave transmission giving way to a wall of overdriven guitar distortion that cloaks more delicate fretwork, the presence of virtually untreated guitar tones and wordless female vocal harmonies revealing the romantic heart that’s always lurked at the heart of a lot of Fennesz’s work, before things ascend into a wash of busy synth arpeggios and bustling rhythmic textures.
If the aforementioned track sees Fennesz concentrating on filling every last inch of space with constant motion, ‘Agora’ takes the opposite route, using a pared down palette of phased synth drones cavernous reverb to create a vast cold landscapes, the resonant echoes of what sound like vocal harmonies bleeding through like ghosts amidst what’s almost a church-like atmosphere. A welcome solo return from Fennesz that as ever sees him anchoring his vast soundscapes with a sense of emotional immediacy.