Fennesz
Agora


2.5
average

Review

by robertsona STAFF
May 15th, 2019 | 10 replies


Release Date: 03/29/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I can only wish that future releases will reach for an integration of his musical bona fides, a return to melodic luxuries that coexist with an assortment of jagged defects.

For me there might as well be a huge monolith demonstratively presiding over Christian Fennesz's body of work, one which points prospective listeners in the direction of 2001's Endless Summer and 2004's Venice and away from the rest. On 2008's Black Sea and 2014's Bécs, Fennesz's formal strategies remained much the same as on those earlier masterpieces, so that I have come to doubt whether the dropoff in quality inheres in the actual sonic elements of the music or is simply a matter of my temperament. Yet I can't help the feeling that Fennesz used to harness his guitar-and-laptop performing forces, looping structures, and unnatural-sounding compression effects toward an expression of complex emotional states, and that these days he has simplified those baseline emotions, slowly pushing his sonic motifs into the realm of hackneyed pathos. ("'Liminality' [2014] is post-rock," asserts a Rateyourmusic.com user, and I say Amen.)

This year's Agora represents something of a 180 for Fennesz--the tracklist itself tells you the album is structured differently than those previous, and my ears tell me that he's interested in different sonic effects this time around. This is the most different Fennesz project out of his seven-call-it studio albums. Where earlier tracks like the aforementioned (and, to be clear, far from beloved) "Liminality" and Endless Summer's (to be clear, unforgettable) title track tinkered in the interstices of unremitting glitchiness and conventionally pretty guitar chords, Agora sees Fennesz dip into the reserves of long-form drone, a bit like the leap fellow resident genius Grouper made from 2008's strummy Dragging A Dead Deer Up a Hill and 2011's gauzy double-mini-LP A I A. But whereas the wide-eyed emotions of A I A acted as a counterpoint to the obfuscating distance instantiated by the hastily recorded droning guitar, and whereas A I A was therefore and for other reasons a stroke of genius, Agora is a step in the opposite direction--Fennesz has abandoned pathos for a sort of emotional neutrality, and the results are not so thrilling.

I recently listened to Endless Summer for the first time in years and found I remembered every song; I've listened to Agora four or five times and find I can barely remember a single structural element, much less the entirety of any of the 10-plus-minute tracks. Each track here possesses nary a definite shape--listen to random fifteen-second snippets or to an entire song, and you'll receive mostly the same listening experience, as songs drone on without specific narrative purpose. This approach has been par for the course ever since Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978) set the stage for future ambient music, but the sonics whereby that structural nowhere-ness was composed were intoxicating in themselves. Agora, meanwhile, on occasion indulges moments of the kind of distorted intensity which made Endless Summer and Venice so special, especially on Hecker-esque final track "We Trigger The Sun," but the album fails to provide a sufficient holding context for these flare-ups. The trouble is two-pronged, both structural and purely sonic: everything bleeds together, and the sounds themselves don't elicit pleasure.

In one sense, I have to hand it to Fennesz: he has without a doubt solved the problems posed by releases in his immediate past, wherein his mastery of guitar glitches and pop pleasures were marred by a straightforward emotionality--dare I call it corniness? Agora is a lot of things, but one thing it is not is corny. But in the process he has sacrificed a whole lot of virtues. Where Fennesz once generated productive frisson in the mind-body continuum of his listeners, now his music stares blankly at them, as if hoping that their and not his affective dispositions will create the passion that sustains worthwhile musical practice. I can only wish that future releases will reach for an integration of his musical bona fides, a return to melodic luxuries that coexist with an assortment of jagged defects, defects which ultimately serve to ground those luxuries in a complex yet relatable emotional context.



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user ratings (44)
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2019


17564 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

thanks for reading

Observer
Staff Reviewer
May 15th 2019


7366 Comments


nice to read a different opinion on it. I always liked Becs and when i listened to this, much was pretty indistinguishable and random so id agree with you largely

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robin
Emeritus
May 16th 2019


4594 Comments


fennesz isn't very good

DoofDoof
May 16th 2019


6697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hmmm, I preferred this to Becs - but then my tastes have gone towards ambient a lot recently



Will revisit later

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robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 16th 2019


17564 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Not a fan of either album but I can’t help but feel that the “song” structure of Bécs fits him better than this longform stuff. They suffer from very different problems though



@robin ahhhhh nah he is pretty good, those two albums are gold and I like his debut more than most, and there’s good stuff everywhere, and the Sakamoto collab Cendre is awesome. Can’t follow you on this one

DoofDoof
May 16th 2019


6697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Endless Summer is a top 50 album of all time so yeah, this ain’t that, but it has a few things I recognise as classic Fennesz going on

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 16th 2019


17564 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

You’re probably right that it’s less of a 180 than this review supposes and probably has more structure therein....but I found it unusually boring! Oh well

robin
Emeritus
May 16th 2019


4594 Comments


Can’t follow you on this one


you didn't even try

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 16th 2019


17564 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Say more

DadKungFu
May 17th 2019


682 Comments


I really like Fennesz for the most part but you hit the nail on the head in your criticism of his past work. Can't agree with this rating though



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