Saturday, July 4, 2009

2001 : 27 "Endless Summer" by Fennesz


Bruce Brown's 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer opens with shots of a golden-orange sunset sparkling in the ocean's shifting striations. If I watch the first few minutes of Brown's documentary and then pop Christian Fennesz’s much-lauded 2001 album Endless Summer into the CD player, skip to track 2 (yeah, titled "Endless Summer"), and close my eyes, it's like that seascape has been translated into sound texture. A weave of warm digitally enhanced sounds glides over and through a temperate cycle of guitar chords. Sonic pulses thread through the mix, sometimes getting redirected, much as, I imagine, wave pulses or currents do in the ocean. This piece and the album as a whole (the album is named after Brown's documentary) consistently evoke both the complex waves-and-currents properties of the biggest thing on Earth and also that well-known Beach Boys-esque California-Edenic take on the ocean: it's the essential component of beach paradise and don't you worry, it wouldn't dare drown your daughter or stir up a storm so crass it smites your whole town. The sea giveth, and it does so with a smile. Period. At its most moving, for me, Endless Summer brings the idealized and the real into the same space. Fennesz's album suggests, as Brown's documentary does, that the perfect wave is actually out there in the real-as-rocks world, waiting for a rider. If you happen to be in the right place—it's South Africa's Cape St. Francis in Brown’s documentary—and it's the right time, you can live the synergy between real and ideal. Hell, you can ride it. Whatever you want. In this sense, I find the album incredibly affirming. Additionally, I'm impressed by the way Fennesz keeps the album from devolving into sentimental fetishizing of "golden moments on the beach," etc. Artfully setting the real and ideal in conversation goes a long way toward accomplishing this, but Fennesz also truncates the blissful arrivals on the album and—perhaps most importantly—almost always emphasizes a counterweight wistful quality, the same one that drives the best Beach Boys ballads, like "Surfer Girl" and "Caroline No." Indeed, Fennesz's album is typically discussed as a paean to the Beach Boys, rather than through connections to Brown’s documentary. The Beach Boys, of course, accomplish wistfulness with aching harmonies and lyrics about what could have been or should be (though we know it won't). Fennesz accomplishes his own gently melancholic, peering-longingly-at-something-so-pure-it-hurts quality by running lovely, modest melodic lines behind gauzy screens of digitized noise. He, time after time, track after almost every track, distances the listener from the beauty—suggesting that paradise isolated and (mostly) unattainable just might be richer for our yearning. And herein lies the central tonic quality of the album: paradise lost, paradise gained, and even paradise watched from across a busy street because you’re stuck behind a desk each carry the potential for redemptive, rich experience. Endless Summer really is the rare artistic document that deserves all the critical praise that's been heaped on it—and it's been plenty. If you've ever lived near the ocean or had a really good day or wanted to be somewhere else—okay, have I covered everyone?—you need to hear this album.

Eric Burger

Listen: Fennesz >> "Endless Summer"

3 comments:

Darren said...

Great stuff as usual Burger.

- Darren

Kate said...

Lovely, indeed. I think I've got this album stashed somewhere. Need to give it another listen, obviously. Thanks...

Darren said...

I was listening to Fennesz this morning, and it occured to me he has more than a few characteristics in common with the painter Gerhard Richter: they're the exception in the musical and artistic avant-garde that has been able to achieve broader success and recognition, they temper unabashed beauty with difficult and challenging abstraction (often in the same piece), they've both done several seascapes, they both seem comfortable jumping between a variety of different styles.

I'm thinking specifically of Richter's 1995 series "S with child" which takes something very gentle and classically beautiful, and "defaces" it with static and scraping and warping.

Just a thought.