Review Summary: Dialogue with the dead
On 2016’s Departed Glories
, Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) wrung hundreds of traditional Russian and Eastern European folk music recordings into haunting textures that coiled around dark synths and drones; with themes of mortality, tradition, and remembrance, it was a surprisingly emotional work from the usually stoic Norwegian ambient producer. Angel’s Flight
continues this sample-heavy approach, using Ludwig Van Beethoven’s String Quartet no. 14, Opus 131—one of the final pieces composed in his lifetime—as its foundation, with Jenssen turning the frequently joyful and life-affirming piece and into a dark, solemn meditation. More than an album, Angel’s Flight
feels like something of a musical séance.
The opening run of tracks are primarily made up of subtly shifting drones, frigid synth pads, and strings from Opus 131 that have been so washed out that they seamlessly fold into Jenssen’s atmospheres; they probably won’t even register as Beethoven samples to all but those very familiar with the piece. There are moments that stick out after repeated listens—particularly the woozy “In the Ballroom”, and the unsettling “As Weird as the Elfin Lights”—but the first run of tracks are all so similarly ethereal that they tend to blur together into a dreary and indistinct whole. With the flittering string sample of the title track comes along at the album’s halfway point, the spirit of Beethoven starts to speak more clearly, slightly distorted by centuries of dirt and decay. On “Unclouded Splendour” and the stunning “Remote & Distant”, Jenssen turns the strings into chilly, whirling gusts that conjure a bleak noir atmosphere, while “Faith & Reverence” and penultimate track “Scan of Waves” are the closest to the source material, featuring jaunty string loops that are grimly smothered under dust. After an almost aggressively minimal opening, the record is back-loaded with its most captivating and rewarding moments.
In its day, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, Opus 131 was notable for having a finale that returned to musical themes from its beginning; Angel’s Flight
follows suit and closes out with the unsettling drones of “The Clock and the Dial”, a track virtually identical to opener “The Sudden Rush”. Both works feel cyclical, returning to their original points at their ends—perhaps an affront to death, like sampling a long-deceased person's music. Indeed, Angel’s Flight
is a highly compelling and emotional work of art on a conceptual level. It’s frustrating, then, that the music itself is often too restrained and distant to make too much of an impact—frequently pretty or moody, but rarely much more.