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Fennesz & Sparklehorse - In The Fishtank 15 (2009, Konkurrent)
Independent Dutch label Konkurrent have been getting artists to collaborate on their In The Fishtank series (the title comes from the name of the studio used), with each release drawing bigger names and bigger results. Even so, this must be seen as a bit of a coup for them. After all, if you took electronic music's hottest property and paired him with the collaborator extraordinaire and mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma that is Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, you really couldn't go wrong...right?
In The Fishtank 15 clocks in at 40 minutes, and in that time Christian Fennesz goes through his entire box of tricks, coaxing his laptop in order to come up with the kind of beautiful noise that made this year's Black Sea such essential listening. Opener 'Music Box of Snakes' worms its way into your head with the chimes of the aforementioned music box, cut up and mixed in with uncomfortable drones and piano stabs with an end result that's not dissimilar to Sigur Rós' contributions to Merce Cunningham's Split Sides project. 'Goodnight Sweetheart' is the highlight of the album - reverb-draped chords wrapping themselves around Linkous' fragile, processed vocals before fading away into the depths of space.
The head-scratching composition 'Shai-Hulud' is a two-and-a-half minute noise storm which seems to lack the quality control of the previous two numbers. Fortunately, it's a minor blip before Fennesz and Linkous come up with another beauty. If Robin Guthrie had written Victorialand in 2009, he may have written something like 'If My Heart', the closest thing to a conventional song in this collection. Soft, drop-tuned acoustic guitar strums sit alongside MBV-distortion turned down to 8 or 9, as Linkous' voice crackles in the twilight.
The ethereal instrumental 'Mark's Guitar Piece' follows this up; an acoustic guitar gently picks notes out in 3/4 time, with tender music box chimes sparkling amongst the intermittent feedback. By contrast, the next track - and the album's longest - 'NC Bongo Buddy' starts off as a raucous, ear-splitting beast, on which Fennesz does what he does best, throwing layers of distorted guitar which roar, choke themselves slowly, then rise up like a phoenix before finally succumbing to waves of hiss. Artists like The Fun Years should be taking notes.
A strummed acoustic closes out 'Christian's Guitar Piece', giving this other worldly album an oddly comforting finish. It's not a huge leap forwards in terms of artistic evolution - Fennesz's sonic identity is particularly stamped over a lot of this record - but there is no shortage of original ideas, and for the most part, they come off with style and substance. Fennesz and Linkous have come out of the fish tank with a record that may not hit the heights of 2009's Best Of lists, but won't be too far away either.