Albums of the Decade: Fennesz – Venice (Touch Records, 2004)


Venice is far from the easiest Fennesz record to talk about, not least that in the 12 years that have passed since its release it has proved to be a strangely prescient record. Whilst the deep blue idealism of its cover art and early sentimentality create a picturesque vision of beauty in place, there’s a seed of discord and a sense of dark concern brewing in its heart, a blustery feeling of failure that threatens to destroy the painterly vision of the city and, as we learn, of Europe.

At first these thoughts scarcely make themselves known as much of the first half is too preoccupied in active admiration; opener “River Of Sand” twists sinuously in humming tones, the guitars lost to granular synthesis in fractious buzzing pieces that turn and seek as they scurry along, the entire piece suspended in a sweet blurriness and light drone fabric. It persists for some time too with “Chateau Rouge” bubbling merrily along, tinkling guitars and processed somethings evoking a foaming amalgam of rather homely and satisfied textures, turning into the twilight burnout of endlessly placid “City of Light”. Luxurious drones sweep out before us, lightly recycling synths breathing with a tidal air that gently laps the senses like a soft Adriatic breeze.

Then there’s an odd moment when 20 second interlude “Onsra” arrives; although a brief nothing in the grand scheme of the record, a slight drone blip in the nighttime, its name hints at a probable upheaval. An Indian word with no direct English equivalent, it means “that feeling when you know that a love wont last”. Seemingly insignificant sonically, but an unquestionable turning point.

Mid-album “Circassian” is an energetic and blustery affair as a result, straining desperately to make the most of the moment and try to resist fate in its reverb laden chords and burnt orange drone smears, fighting the good fight before bowing out, defeated and lost into the glimmering briefness of “Onsay” and then the darkening “The Other Face”. Now Venice begins to show different colours with haunting vocal coos humming out of oscillating guitar fragments and unstable static lines, staring into the face of decay that rests just below the surface.

This ambitious collection of islands, once the heart of one of the most powerful ports in the world, a bastion of human tenacity and ingenuity, a hub of scientific and artistic influence, is a shell of its former self, Fennesz opines. Pretty from afar but decaying from within, it finds itself as little more than a tourist trap, a place polished only to pander to the travellers. And then David Sylvian’s gently sung “Transit” delivers a stinging message that echoes beyond just the city itself:

“Say your goodbyes to Europe

Our shared history dies with Europe”

It swiftly finds itself followed by the aptly titled and gorgeously melodic “The Point Of It All”, an almost mournful entertainment of softly melancholic drones, scattered glitch nothings and humbled acoustic guitar pickings. It searches for an answer, a solution, a purpose, deeply regretful of the current state of affairs yet sweetly disenfranchised. How strongly affecting this pair of pieces are at present, how sadly resonant with current affairs they are even after a decade.

“A future’s hinting at itself
Do you fear what I fear?”

Just like there’s a hint of weathering and subtle decay to the boats on the cover, there’s an understanding and recognition of entropy and the sad reality that things don’t have an indefinite lifespan: such is the overwhelming closure of “The Stone of Impermanence”. A brief spark plug of glitch flashes into life to explode into catastrophic undoing, a singularity of guitar destruction that defies space and time, mulching all sense of thought into oblivion. Wooden pilings splinter, concrete crumbles, boats sink, and an eternity of irrelevance beckons in the fizzling emptiness of obscurity at its conclusion, a haze of static nothings and warbling tones, a dark suggestion of things to come.

Christian forces us to watch a socio-economic powerhouse collapse with seemingly effortless grace in Venice but he was only spelling out a piece of broader continental entropy; one has to wonder how much closer he thinks Europe is to the precipice now than we were 12 years ago.

AOTD: 2005 has been skipped but we will proceed normally; it’ll arrive in January 2017