Swedish Lidl released an album of field recordings from the supermarket
For an album to truly work as an album, it needs to create its own environment within a coherent narrative structure and not just exist as an arbitrary collection of songs. And for years, the album has had its place in Dance music. The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Hot Chip (just to name a few) have always tried to piece together tonal textures into an overall set piece without forgetting the odd dance-floor banger. Vitalic (interviewed here) – one of the most old fashioned dance-floor producers when it comes to the album format – achieved the most album-like qualities during the more drawn out, less dance-floor-y moments. Take Still on his most recent piece of work ‘Flashmob’, for instance. Find me a Pavlovian reaction on a dance floor to that track and I will give you a fist full of shiny coins but there is no denying that it is integral to the overall feel of the album.
This may or may not have been in Henrik Weber’s (aka Pantha du Prince) mind when making ‘Black Noise’. But what is definitely true is that when it comes to the Techno album format per se, this album definitely breaks the track-by-track mould set by an album like Oliver Huntemann’s ‘H3’, for instance. With ‘Black Noise’, Weber takes the essense of Techno as his base and works in the sensuality of, say, a forest or meadow to make up its aesthetic tapestry. Organic sounds and percussive movements that are both subtle and exciting. Sure, this has been done in individual Minimal Techno records for over ten years now, but here Weber’s concern is the full 11 tracks. He achieves what Stimming came so agonisingly close to last year with ‘Reflections’.
Breaking out into the open soundscape of Lay in a Shimmer, beautifully constructed music box melodies dance around playfully. They live and breathe as the song develops and evolves as the driving basslines paint a picture far more akin to classical composition than the environments of a nightclub. Can you dance to it? Probably not (unless you’re an epileptic ballet dancer perhaps). But that doesn’t matter. Weber’s main object is painting a series of landscapes that naturally bleed into one another. The darkness of Abglanz – built out of reverberated clicks and pops – is a discordant and dream-like augmentation of minimalism.
Playful melodies and rhythms are threaded with inventive percussion to make delicate soundscapes for the best part of the album. With The Splendour and Es Schneit especially, the album develops its heart but this is interrupted by the disappointingly quantized Stick to My Side, featuring Animal Collective/Panda Bear’s Noah Lennox. But, despite the enhanced accessibility of this track, Weber still manages to use the haunting vocal range and atmospheric production styles of Lennox to beautiful effect and any initial disappointment of hearing the seemingly accidental composition being punctured by this steady 4X4 arrangement is fleeting.
Webber’s seemingly naive approach to music production has been paramount to some big, recent album releases. Burial, Four Tet (‘There is Love in You’ reviewed here), Animal Collective (‘Fall Be Kind’ reviewed) and The XX (also interviewed here) have all pushed creative boundaries while stripping down their sound to a delicate balance of subtlety and substance. ‘Black Noise’ is an extension of this. It is reduced down but tightly weaved, layer after layer.
While the album’s tone is rooted firmly in the natural environment, the start of Behind The Stars is most surprising, sounding like Daft Punk’s Steam Machine played in a dark and desolate building site. Occupying a strange part of the album, it is perhaps the most uninspiring piece on ‘Black Noise’. While slightly jarring, it does offer Weber the chance to explore something more mechanical and industrial and for the first three minutes it is his most dance-floor orientated track.
This aside, Pantha Du Prince has produced some of the most technically intricate and organic soundscapes I have ever heard on this album. It is more than just a collection of disparate musical ideas and songs and it is certainly not made for the dance floor. It is movement, feeling, atmosphere – it maps out experience.