Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pantha Du Prince

Black Noise (Rough Trade, 02.2010)

For: Boards of Canada, CFCF, Matthew Dear

Byline: The follow-up to his classic This Bliss, Hendrick Weber’s latest album is an absolute masterwork of the microhouse, minimal techno genre; a hypnotic journey into gorgeous soundscapes and a bottomless sea of instrumentation. Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

One thing that is remarkable about watching a Fellini film is his use of color frequency in black and white. In his films black wasn’t simply the absense of color, it took on a deep hue of its own. It stood in sharp contrast to the equally stark, brilliant whites. His films weren’t simply a variation of grey, the two-tones lived in separate but equal spaces of their own. Comparing this to the era of blu-ray players we are seeing the same thing happening with the RGB color spectrum. We aren’t getting derivative variations on colors, instead we are treated to something approaching life itself. With these two poles gradually coming around to meet each other in the middle there is something to be said about the grainy vhs copies of recorded television shows we grew up watching. There is something wholly nostalgic about outdated technology, the colors seem to feel a certain way, wrapping the image in a staticy, visual warmness. This is mainly due to the fact that we never saw true black. The black that we saw contained so much “noise” (little white spots, non-uniformity of color) that all the colors were compressed with to a limited spectrum that look very little like what we see today. Try looking for this on your taped Roseanne re-runs (it’s ok, we all had a crush on Becky).

Pantha du Prince has dedicated his album, by name at the least, to the randomness and ambiguity in those images that lend so much nostalgia to that bygone technology. Black Noise takes on a limited tonal range, nothing fluctuating too much beyond the muted tones of microhouse’s 4-4 beat palate and a minimalist affinity for found/oddball percussion. But what Pantha du Prince does with this compressed accessibility to sound is truly remarkable. Hendrick Weber doesn’t paint in the absolutist hues of black and white, more, he allows synth lines, organic percussion, oddball samples, and monolithic beats to crossover into each others auditory space, creating a blurred line between elements that make up an electronic composition. The result is 11 hypnotic tracks, each one a little masterpiece in its own right, that blend together to equal the inherent, random beauty of television static.

Black Noise, being the follow up to 2007’s universally lauded This Bliss, has some major expectations to live up to. In many ways it is a spiritual successor to everything that This Bliss so incredible. The focus being on the thrilling headphone moments that make a walk home more than a walk home, those moments when the plodding beat and skittering percussion of all sorts of chimes, tubular bells, triangles, change dropping on the ground, samples of monster truck derbies, circle around your ears and wrap you in a state of untouchable solitude. You better believe Black Noise has these in spades. The album opener “Lay in a Shimmer” is quite perfectly a perfect album opener of all time. The track builds on itself, building layer upon layer until floating ambience of near Talk Amongst the Trees pastoral beauty becomes an intensely focused microhouse dance track.

I can’t believe I have gone this far without mentioning the high selling points, the collabos. Noah Lennox (of this band you might of heard of called Animal Collective) donates vocals to “Stick To My Side”. The immediately recognizable voice is an eerie mix between the quasi-mystical warmness of Panda Bear’s octave dropping sincerity and the chilly rigidity of Weber’s carefully constructed arrangement. Did I mention there are real DJ vinyl scratches!? Awesome! The second mouth-watering collaboration features Tyler Pope (Outhud, LCD Soundsystem, !!!) guest stars on guitar on “The Splendour”, if you have studied Pope’s driving, rhythmic guitar work on those previous work you know what potential lies behind the mind-meld of these two incredible musicians. The result is an atmospheric, chunky pieces of processed guitars that take on both an floating, ethereal quality and clanking, gamelan sounding weirdness that at times sounds like a cross between a slot machine and a pinball game. Something not to be missed.

The end of the album contains a three song stretch that beats out anything else on the album. “Welt and Draht”, “Im Bann”, and “Es Schneit” are beautifully paced, spectral wonders of warm synths and uptempo beats. A characteristic that these three tracks have that are different than any other (that can be said about every track on the album) is the inclusion of wordless, vocal cooing that float in and out of the background like a ghost. Acoustic guitar drones and decayed, delayed vocals enter and exit like a cut from Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops” on "Im Bann" and "Welt and Draht". This is an unexpected turn, but works with the internal logic of the dance track.

Black Noise is Pantha du Prince’s first release on Rough Trade and could be one of those albums that has enough crossover potential with choice guest spots, broad distribution, and major critical fawning, that could spark new life into the microhouse, minimal techno genre and see the ushering in of a widely dispersed music trend within the mainstream. Let’s hope, there have been many before Pantha that have not gotten their due, sometimes it only takes an album this amazing to open the door and let everyone in.

Ryan H.

See full review at:

Download "The Splendour" (word up to Stereogum for hosting this)

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