This is one Fax disc that has a mythical reputation, even among a cluster of releases with similar claims. The work of a young Swedish composer, it represents his only work on the label to date, which perhaps adds to its mystique when placed alongside a similarly classic disc by a much-recorded Fax stalwart, such as Atom Heart, Tetsu Inoue or even Mr. K himself.
I'm pleased to reconfirm that everything you've heard about this disc is true, the hype is for once justified. This is indeed a must-buy, indeed it could well stand as the best "concept album" of all time, given the usual standard of such offerings.
While the piece works best as a whole, the highlight is surely unarguably track 8, which displays such innocent, almost naive, beauty as to totally disarm the listener if he or she hasn't been forewarned as to its mystical powers(!) Truly a gem among gems. As far as the rest of the release is concerned, the beginning is particularly strong, beautifully setting the scene for what follows....very powerful and evocative stuff, and from one so young as well!
My only complaint is that this is his only Fax disc, surely after six years another is long overdue...Verdict : Buy. This. Disc....Now.
Now if you'll excuse me I'm just off to listen to part 8 again :-)
(review by Martin Jones)
There are several songs on this magical album that reward multiple listenings. Here's a track-by-track analysis . . .
Part 1 (8.00): Very slow, droning intro. Lazily, a metallic rhythm builds . . . the droning gives way to a lovely melody on strings. The percussion stays fairly subdued throughout the entire track, then drops out and the song fades in a quiet drone. The melody here makes me think of winter, and an impending snow storm. I can imagine a cold, gray sky looming overhead when I listen to this track. Definitely a high point on this recording.
Part 2 (5.16): Begins with a mechanical, repetitive rhythm, with a register tone in the background. This is almost a slow dance track. Soon, a sad, short melody appears and gets repeated along the length of the song. Cool little synth flairs appear near the end of the track. Nicer song at the end than at the beginning.
Part 3 (4.48): This is great... An uptempo, very dancey (is that a word?) beat takes hold with a thoughtful melody riding on top, and some obscure voice samples. This would make great night driving music, watching the lines on the highway whisk past your car with headlights beaming into the distance. Really nice percussion on this track. A definite highlight of the album.
Part 4 (4.15): Part 4 starts with an electric, ominous melody. Some skittering beats are added to the mix. The strings return here, and place another layer of omen on the underlying dark melody. The strings end the song on a fast fadeout. This is probably not a big highlight on the album, but it does continue dark, mysterious tone.
Part 5 (3.40): Starts with a sad, two-note fluttering melody and bird-like cries. The rhythm is held up by what sort of sounds like someone walking across thin snow or leaves. Not a lot going on here, and the song ends uneventfully.
Part 6 (2.46): The album's shortest track is an a capella string etude. This is quite pleasant and might be thought of as the mid-album rest.
Part 7 (4.44): A bunch of chimes open this, and soon some nice percussion kicks in. The weird voice samples are back, with a two-note droning melody in the background. The chimes return a few times and give way to a forlorn repetitive synth melody. Another lesser track here.
Part 8 (4.48): Begins with a very funky, very IDM-like rhythm. An annoying little melody plays along for a while, and thankfully disappears to reveal one of the album's best tracks. Another awesome melody begins a bit later, and continues the same mood introduced on the first track. This is really spectacular. I can imagine sitting atop a barn on the north shore of Lake Superior, late in the afternoon on an overcast November day . . . watching the gray clouds move slowly overhead, and gradually, snowflakes appear . . . and give way to a slow, steady snowfall. If anyone here has ever played Final Fantasy 3 on SNES . . . that part in the intro where three of the players are trudging along through a blizzard in a forest . . . this song really evokes memories of that, and of what winter feels like. Amazing track. Definitely needs to be listened to multiple times. It's tracks like these that make me love IDM . . . and the images these tracks can create in my mind.
Part 9 (4.34): This is also a good track, but doesn't quite live up to the previous one. This one's more about rhythm than melody, although a very nice background tone can be heard through much of it. Not very memorable.
Part 10 (6.36): Starts out with what we've now come to know as a signature Peter Benisch rhythm. Kind of a slow, watery feel, and not completely undanceable. Unfortunately, this track is sort of ruined for me by the melody. At times it's good, but it's mainly just dumb. I usually skip this one.
Part 11 (6.47): Flickering metallic noises open the album's last track. This keeps up, and a distant register melody is played in the background. Perhaps this is after the storm, and everything's buried in 20 feet of light, fluffy snow. This is probably the album's most melancholy song. The sad, depressing melody gets louder as the track wears on, but the song doesn't really do much in its near seven-minute length. The metal keeps on until the end of the track and quietly ends. A fitting end to an emotional album.
Overall, my favorite tracks are 1, 3 and 8, but there's really not an unpleasant moment here. I wonder how much the title of the album has influenced the images that its songs have created for me. I get a similar effect with Boards of Canada. Their track titles can really help conjure up some interesting pictures while I listen to the music (especially tracks like Telephasic Workshop, Chinook and roygbiv). This is something that a band like Autechre is deficient in. I think track titles (or album titles in this case) can really add to the mood. If this album was called "Zvxyqdr 16" or something, I would probably never have imagined the things I did while listening.
If you can find this album (emusic.com has it), I'd highly recommend it, if simply for mood and imagination alone.
(review by Jonathan Osborne)