Review Summary: Aaron Funk's most personal but also most off-balanced and untraditional album to date.
Venetian Snares - My Downfall
Popular electronic artist, Aphex Twin (aka Richard James), though he has a goofy discography, has one album that particularly sticks out from the smooth electronica of his universally renowned albums I Care Because You Do
and the Richard D. James Collection
. His 2001 LP, Drukqs
is a curious album of dissonant piano solos and epic breakbeat tracks that is difficult to digest in its double LP format. The more scathing reviews picked apart its expansiveness and dissonance as in Pat Blashill's review for Rolling Stone:
"He has bravely charted a course toward tech-noise and slowly veered into unlistenability. With Drukqs, James delivers his most irrelevant album to date"
Though this may be a pigeonholing way to introduce Venetian Snares' (only) 2007 LP, My Downfall
, I feel like My Downfall
is both Venetian Snares' (aka Aaron Funk's) least accessible album as well as his most challenging listen to date. It is his Drukqs
I don't mean this in the way one would typically imagine. When I use a term like "challenging" in the context of Venetian Snares in mind, I don't think of the average listener, but rather an Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) listener. The IDM kids are expecting frenzied beats, weird technobabble noises, unusual time signatures. For them it's not challenging to listen to aggressive breakbeats in 13/8 at 250 BPM, it's more challenging to listen to Aaron Funk slow down and explore his personal fascination with post-tonal of the Western classical tradition. My Downfall
is not an IDM album. It is actually a highly personal song cycle that has more in common with Bartok's Mikrokosmos
or Scriabin's Mysterium
. And for those familiar with Funk's back catalog, this album is his aesthetic followup to his 2005 album, Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett
, an album that blended samples from Hungarian classical, pop, an jazz music with Funk's trademark, asymmetric breakbeats. My Downfall
though, trades in samples for original compositions, and loses the breakbeat almost entirely.
Now, such an artistic leap would be appreciated if it were a leap forward and not a leap backwards. Unfortunately, though not by much, this album is a let down after the genius of Funk's previous two LPs. The departure from typical breakbeat has hurt Venetian Snares' style, not because he's being held to some standard that he can only write IDM, but because the material he chooses to fill the empty space with is just not so great. His compositions are often highly repetitive. Any one track is usually just a small exploration of an initial motive using classical instrumentation (violins, horns, etc.). Some of these barren tracks are actually fairly captivating as in the vigorous polyphony of "Holló Utca 2" or the textured, ambient "I'm Sorry I Failed You." However, some of the tracks are just filler by comparison like the pointless "Picturesque Pit." Some of these lesser tracks, while nice in their own way, just don't feel consequential or as thoughtfully composed. Also, on a whole I wonder why Funk chose to make the album so depressed. The general tone is bleak and introverted. He feels like an artist torn apart by his own compositions, which sometimes makes the music wonderfully personal and emotive, but at other times overwrought and melodramatic. The album thankfully stays grounded more towards the personal and emotive sides but sometimes the swelling of violins threatens to push My Downfall
over the edge.
And don't forget, this album isn't completely bereft of Funk's traditional breakbeat. The album is arranged as a collection of modern classical vignettes with longer, breakbeat epics interspersed throughout. "Integraation" and "My Half" might as well be tracks from Rossz...
. They begin slowly as in any other vignette but then breakbeat emerges, escalating the tracks to extreme crests and then reducing them the humbling troughs. Considering how effective these longer breakbeat tracks are, it makes one wonder why Funk didn't just choose his 10 favorite vignettes and expand them with beats. Many of the vignettes are just small but interesting musical motives that could use accompaniment to flesh out variations on their original themes. In many ways, My Downfall
feels like it could have been everything Rpssz...
was, or, maybe Funk was aware of that and purposely stripped the album down to distinguish it from its more attractive older sibling. And considering the simultaneous self-flagellation and self-egrandization embedded in composing one's own personal downfall, My Downfall
may just be a purposefully worse album. Maybe in order to make this his more personal and human album, Funk had to strip it of its immaculate beats and sampling and replace that with something with human error and heart. Either way, this bleak album is an intense and beautiful listen, if off-balanced and imperfect.