Music Reviews

Polwechsel W/ Fennesz

Wrapped Islands

Erstwhile

I’ve listened to Wrapped Islands nearly everyday for a month trying to put some kind of clever spin on it, trying to find something along the lines of an artistic or theoretical precedent for it, but I can’t. I can’t find the right words to illustrate this album.

The appeal of Polwechsel is obvious. John Butcher, Werner Dafeldecker, Michael Moser, and Burkhard Stangl are all musicians who have established themselves as incredibly strong solo performers, putting them in a group with the addition of consistently strong Christian Fennesz seems utterly irresistible.

Every day I review new improvised albums by the modern titans of free jazz, all the while having Wrapped Islands in the back of my head. Here is an album full of enigma, thought, surprise, and texture and juxtaposed next to the daily grind of 50 minute albums brimming with meaningless squawking, I can only think that comparison is downright impossible. This is something different.

Yes. There is a fifty-year history of improvised electro-acoustic music. A lot of it is fantastic. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard an album like this, however, even including the past Polwechsel releases. The album is consistent over its 53 minutes, paced deliberately and giving the impression of being heavily thought out. Maybe it’s not true. I know they recorded this album over the course of several days, I know the music is largely improvised, but there is such an indelible tint to the music, something mahogany and sauna-like.

For all of that electronic music that aims to be austere and cold, here is an album that is smoldering in scratchy humidity. Its blistering, wet hisses mixed with the delirious overlap of acoustic guitar, reed, and string harmonics seem strange considering the album was recorded in January, nearly a year ago.

Drones and lulls are emblematic of electro-acoustic improvisation, maybe because they’re the place where the looping repetition of computers and slight inaccuracies of acoustic instruments blur most stunningly. It is important to stress that somehow, Wrapped Islands, which builds subtle, sonorous hums, escapes any staleness that might be associated with the word. Polwechsel has made a rapidly moving album that gives the illusion that it stays still.

There are so many layers to peel away, from sounds that mimic each other to the ever-present sense of melody gone awry, Wrapped Islands still holds its sense of awe, even now, over a month since I first heard it. The album is one of the most exciting, provoking releases of the year, and one of the few that managed to get there with subtlety.

Erstwhile Records: http://www.erstwhilerecords.com


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