Thursday, November 20, 2008

Angst is Not a Weltanschauung - B. Fleischmann

Angst is Not a Weltanschauung

B. Fleischmann
Morr Music Records.

SCQ Rating: 73%

From 1999’s landmark Poploops for Breakfast through 2006’s The Humbucking Coil, it was clear that B. Fleischmann’s discography was locked into a slippery slope of refinement. With each release, Fleischmann became increasingly harsh on misplaced notes and fuzzy production techniques; a compulsive issue that began to sterilize his records. I can’t say it was a huge deterrent, as the record that suffered from this homogenization the most, The Humbucking Coil, remains somehow his best. However, few could doubt that through filtering his work so stringently, Fleischmann had eliminated the element of spontaneity and reduced his pedigree to recycling the same trick, as enjoyable as it was. Kudos to Bernard, then, who has snapped that uniformity with Angst is Not a Weltanschauung; a record that takes on several disguises and succeeds in each.

The most immediate change from previous efforts is Fleischmann’s bold use of vocals – both guest musicians and his own – which envelop 2/3rds of Angst…; more often than his previous three records combined. After the not-so-obligatory introductions of ‘Hello’, ’24.12’ gives us the establishing shot of Christmas Eve and a bizarre conversation translated through duet (another Fleischmann first!!) which comprises a catchy first single. Now I can’t say “bizarre” without touching upon ‘Phones, Machines and King Kong’; the result of B. Fleischmann collaborating with Daniel Johnston (how on earth did these two meet? What’s next: Sigur Ros with Charles Manson?). Matching Johnston’s vocals - which chronicle the events of King Kong, no less - to his own previously released ‘Phones and Machines’, this track stands out from others at first because of its peculiarity, yet after a few listens, because it’s actually quite good. Johnston rarely deviates from one vocal hook, which can grate on some ears, yet his repetitive understanding of King Kong’s tale becomes poignant next to Fleischmann’s composition, making it a strange but mesmerizing centerpiece. Odd duets and collaborations aside, it’s Fleischmann himself, taking vocals on two songs, who keeps Angst… on the straight and narrow. ‘Still See You Smile’ revisits the electronic songcraft that Christoff Kurzmann crooned over last record, while final track ‘Even Your Glasses Miss Your Eyes’ ends things on a gorgeous refrain, mixing circular piano keys with Fleischmann’s understated loops. His vocals are better than I’d expected, as after years of selecting collaborative voices, I assumed he was naturally off-pitch. As Fleischmann moves into an increasingly songwriter-oriented musician, I hope he continues to use his own vocals (at least sporadically) as they compliment his well-honed arrangements.

Like his previous efforts, Angst is Not a Weltanschuuang is impeccably polished, and while Fleischmann may still shy away from leaving any sonic debris behind, he has reinforced his natural talent with spontaneity. ‘The Market’ is a bouncy ride through Fleischmann’s crowd of song ideas, while ‘Last Time We Met at a T&TT Concert’ is a tense soundtrack that includes suites of different keyboard effects, wayward percussion shifts and a mightily-incorporated accordion. Most adventurous of all is ‘Playtime’, aptly named for this BPM overdrive that careens through an eight minute loop production.

All of these advancements make Angst… a bit difficult to score comparatively to his discography. Both Welcome Tourist and The Humbucking Coil were studies in relaxed beats and subtle variation, largely instrumental and ideal for daydreaming, making Angst is Not a Weltanschauung a well-orchestrated contrast, better for late-night driving and hanging out with friends. Personally, I thought the cover-art would be entirely unrelated to the music – sheep, glasses, bricks and chairs = worst cover of the year – but, several spins later, its unorganized arrangement is beginning to make sense. For all this unprecedented experimentation, there are bound to be a few spotty areas, undercooked or overlong, but even these so-so moments are brief and pleasant. This may not be Fleischmann’s masterstroke, but it’s his most daring statement yet.

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