Fennesz – Agora (Touch, 2019)

To stay at home is to feel safe, avoiding having to confront the endless barrage of social interactions and the anxieties of navigating this modern, labyrinthine world. Like most fears, it’s been named, been labelled: agoraphobia. Sufferers will know the feeling of stress it induces all too well, of the ways in which they work to avoid going out, the strategies they employ to convince themselves to leave and the places they know to stray from.

It’s a big wide world out there, filled with possibilities and experiences waiting to happen, yearning to be explored; therein lies the paradox, and the crux of Fennesz’s latest beautiful creation, Agora.

Nowhere is this discrepancy felt stronger than in opening elegy “In My Room”, the ultimate in archetypal Fennesz as it spins out its huge crooning guitar chords. They bend and flex in the air, scything across the relative stillness of the scene like slashes of sunlight migrating across the walls through the day, these roving invitations that pierce the confines of our vault. Slowly they soften, wearing down into enveloping drones that bathe the listener in promise, in assuredness: it’ll be ok, it insists, heartbeat throbbing onwards in our ears, pushing us towards the necessity of the door.

Juxtaposition is further pursued in “Rainfall”, whose initially blurry and indistinct passages begin to turn dark and calamitous. Fizzing granular distortions and aqueous hummings capture a certain freshness and pleasantry in the first half, its hazy edges obscuring a world in quiescence and without people thanks to the rain. Quickly though this balance is upset and a relentless fervour begins to rise, an endless noir cruise through mushed guitar and synth arpeggiations that bring an urgent drama to proceedings. It is a hurried tension, and one which I can’t decide on whether it lives in aversion of the rain or of what happens when the squall passes, and pass it does.

Without warning it cracks, greying out and capped with a tight guitar twang like a warning shot. It careens into the title track, a weightless micro-gravity construction all adaze in elegiac drone smears. Buzzing lines froth to the surface on occasion but mostly we are lost in this submarine realm, surrounded by a dark unfamiliarity, moving forwards in a trance to zone out the world. We almost come around to some kind of enjoyment or appreciation as closing “We Trigger The Sun” moves around, opening with distantly grinding guitar that evokes some of Blanck Mass’ earlier, more cerebral pieces.

It’s not to last though, and ultimately these initial sequences of lightness dissolve away, rapidly bleeding into a chaotic sensory overload that whirs and hums and twinkles and pitches about a spiralling axis. These moments of pleasure are brief and fleeting; just like that we are outside the comfort zone again, some trivial action throwing us off to crawl and scratch our way back to safety.

We know it’s all irrational, we desperately want to embrace a life where we don’t have to employ tactics just to go outside, or be anxious in crowds, or whatever it might be. You can sense the frustration simmering, festering just below the surface; there’s always going to be bad days, so let’s just take them one at a time and savour those idyllic and carefree moments when they come.