Review Summary: Top-notch electronica that transcends genre. We've all heard that before, but this is different. Trust me.
Let's get a few things out of the way before this review begins. First, Bersarin Quartett is not a quartet. It's one person who goes by Thomas. He's from Germany. Second, while some of his music uses synth strings that recalls the Kronos Quartet on Requiem for a Dream, his music hardly ever sounds like a string quartet or anything with four members. It is, at the same time, much more grand and much more sparse. So when you listen to this album (and you WILL listen to this album), do not expect anything from the name. Release any preconceived notions based on its implications.
Bersarin Quartett's debut album paints with colors of deep hues, rich with vividness. No matter what sound he uses as his brush, Thomas sweeps across the canvas, covering the whole thing with one stroke. Opener “Oktober” sets the mood, perhaps the most string-centric song on the whole album, through gorgeous, open sections that sandwich a percussion-led section that grooves despite its stilted nature. While the song grows in volume, it never grows much in intensity, letting the mood and ambiance do all the work.
From there, it seems as the album might be another “pretty electronica” album based in chamber classical music, albeit a very good one. But as “Die Dinge sind nie so wie sie sind” (roughly translated, things are not as they seem) notes, Bersarin Quartett
has something different in store. One of the longer songs on the album, it begins much in the manner that one might expect, with lush chords and distant piano strikes. But it grows. This time not only in volume but also in intensity. A cymbal swell brings in a rhythmic ostinato that implies that the song might head into a jazz jam session. Ambience swallows that thought and leads to something more funky. It's clear that this debut album is a genre-bending work of art. What sets Bersarin Quartett
apart from other albums of its kind, however, is the way it blends genres. Instead of throwing them all together at once, Thomas lets each style stand on its own. The classical of “Oktober” and “St. Petersburg” stands next to the ambient electronica of “Inversion” and “Nachtblind.” This is not fusion. It is juxtaposition.
Even more remarkable than this ability to juxtapose genres is the ability to do so with such perfect minimalism. While not initially apparent because the chords are so full, the sounds so rich, there is hardly ever more than one melodic idea floating around at one time. At its most complex, the music consists of some washing ambient noise, chords, and some sort of percussion. In “Und die Welt steht still” (and the world is standing still) the second half of the song is so simple- a chord just grows and grows and grows to the point of nearly blowing the speakers, causing cracks and buzzes. At any moment, the music could implode on itself, and the next moments give that effect. Quickly, the sound fades away to reveal a layer of strings, that same melody that the growing chord swallowed. That layer never actually stopped playing.
The layers within this music, entirely independent to stand on their own yet helpful to develop the next idea, allow the music to accompany all moods. Unlike so many electronica albums, Bersarin Quartett
has a universal appeal due to its many influences (“Endlich am Ziel” might fit onto an early Sigur Ros album while “Geschichten von Interesse” might do better with The Cinematic Orchestra) and colors. Closer “Mehr als alles andere” (more than anything else) breaks many of the standards the album holds for itself by showing that he can blend the genres he distinctly separates throughout the album while still introducing something completely new. The strings and electronica come together, brought to a climax with a breakbeat, a sense of intensity the album never knew. Still, it works as a closer, bringing the album to a definite sense of finality. It is perhaps the resolution of all the false builds and all the tension created throughout the rest of the album. Make no mistake, Bersarin Quartett
is an incredible release in the electronica world, but one that fans of many other genres will enjoy.