Wild Mercury Sound

Fennesz, Sakamoto, the Queens Of The Stone Age/Jack White connection, and lots of removal men

John Mulvey

General mayhem here today: Uncut is moving office on Friday, so we're trying to finish the next issue while battalions of removal men swarm around us, emptying our cupboards and leaving great piles of magazines in their wake.

I'm combatting this with "Cendre", the new album by Fennesz Sakamoto. Music doesn't get much more tranquil than this, so much so that it's hard to describe it as anything other than ambient. I suspect Eno and probably Harold Budd would certainly approve. Listen carefully though and, as ever with the best examples of this sort of stuff, a lot is going on.

At the heart of it, there's Ryuichi Sakamoto, who first came to fame as part of the Yellow Magic Orchestra before falling into the orbits of Bowie, David Sylvian and so on. Ostensibly, Sakamoto sits at the piano and tinkles distractedly in the manner of Erik Satie, while a distant snowstorm of electronic effects kicks off in the background.

Much of this, I can only assume, is generated by Christian Fennesz, an Austrian who for the past few years has been one of the most intriguing habitues of leftfield electronica salons. Fennesz' trademark sound is a staticky, micro-detailed wall of fuzz, often his guitar-playing processed through a laptop. All his solo records are worth hearing, but I'd particularly recommend "Endless Summer" on Mego, a sort of abstract homage to The Beach Boys which digitalises and scrambles the melancholy yearning of "Pet Sounds" (he also did a great version of "Don't Cry (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" for Jim O'Rourke's Moikai label years ago).

Fennesz is a commendably subtle operator, and his digitalia hangs around Sakamoto's improvisations like unusually co-operative mist. There's a faintly sinister edge to tracks like "Kokoro", too, which often makes ambient music more interesting, I think. Perhaps it's easier to make ambient music more interesting this way, come to think of it, since a vague ethereal spookiness is more attainable, surely, than a genuinely blissful state that avoids cheesiness?

Anyway, a good record for today. Thanks in passing to those who wrote about my Queens Of The Stone Age live review - I'd never realised the animosity an ingenuous Metallica reference could generate. Interesting fact gleaned from this morning's NME: the new keyboards guy in the Queens, Dean Fertita, looks familiar because he was in the live incarnation of The Raconteurs. I have a vague hunch the two bands have recently been sharing a soundman, too, but I could be wrong about that. I wonder if Fertita will guest with The White Stripes at the Hyde Park show next month?


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