For an ambient album to grip me from first listen is a bad sign. A very bad sign. This normally means that I will get four or five listens out of it before the cracks show and it reveals its thinness, pretention and lack of vision. Depth requires time for the composer and the listener.
So when I started “Schwere See”, you can understand why I was a little disappointed (?) to have enjoyed it so much on that first listen. Infectiousness is not welcome here. After I got past listen five though, I was astonished to find some crucial elements were missing. The cracks were not showing. The album felt as thin as the Mariana Trench. And, most crucially, I still loved it.
It all starts with one of the most finely crafted drum kicks you’re likely to hear this year. “Beaufort” is certainly an ominous signpost of things to come, directing you down a road of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ styled proportions lit only by the sonoluminescence of chorused organs and groans, creaks, crackles and what sounds like birdsong from a set of half mangled, haunted aviaries.
I am sure that I would lose a few of you if I were to say that Prautzsch reminded me of Venetian Snares; I accept that, but hear me out. Much like our favourite bearded (bonus points) breakbeat aficionado, Peter Prautzsch’s command of his sonic landscape extends throughout the album with every second feeling like it’s been sat on for 20 minutes while it is expertly sculpted into the form you now hear. “Skagerrak” crosses into more familiar territory, utilising a repeating groove upon which to place his sonic explorations from orchestral crescendos to a menagerie of sounds underneath. Saying this, it still never escapes Prautzsch’s sometimes gentle, sometimes aggressive experimental grasp. The piano sounds on this release are a treat in themselves. They are certainly reminiscent of a Ben Frost release, occasionally chirping up like the only ray of sunshine left on earth.
“Auf Grund”, the highlight of the album, takes the crushing metal grinds and chirps of “Treibis” and the long, meandering organ passages of “Aurora Borealis”, makes a few tweaks and takes them out for a nice meal, maybe a film, and sets another date there and then; no “I’ll call you tomorrow” for Prautzsch. Once you’ve treated these sounds nicely, there is nothing you can’t do with them, and it turns out they might not be so monstrous after all.
You can definitely hear where the influences are coming from as well. As beautiful as “Auf Grund” is, you can find almost an identical pounding, stepped bass at the start of Alva Noto’s “garment (for a garment)”. To keep original for almost an hour is certainly no mean feat and in a world where the same chord patterns are repeated over and over in indie rock, drum and bass and every other genre under the sun, it would be extremely harsh to mark this release down based on a few similarities. If you’re going to pick some less original sounds, you should pick them well. And it is a really freakin’ cool sound.
There is a lot to commend this album for. Having heard this through a good few times, I am still finding new things to listen to, which is high praise indeed. I am not sure as to whether it reaches the dizzying heights of Tim Hecker’s “Ravedeath 1972”, Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Insen” or Ben Frost’s “Theory of Machines”, but it certainly comes damn close. It’s creeping up behind them with only dismembered organs to light its way. The others have had many more listens as well, so “Schwere See” still has time on its side. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
Posted: Wed 28 March 2012