King of the beach

Pub date September 21, 2010
WriterMatt Sussman

MUSIC That old saw about how the Velvet Underground’s first record may not have sold well but everyone who heard it went on to form their own band could also be said of Austrian composer/producer Christian Fennesz’s 2001 release Endless Summer (Mego).

Although I can’t speak to Endless Summer‘s sales numbers — surely the deluxe reissue treatment it received in 2007 must have helped it reach new ears — the influence of its honeyed guitar strums submerged in swells of digital glitch and distortion is clearly discernible in many contemporary MP3 blog favorites, from the laptop shoegaze of M83, to the muscular, ambient miasmas of Oneohtrix Point Never (who Fennesz recently remixed on the superb “Returnal” 7″ with Antony Haggerty), and even to the nostalgia-coddled, analog warmth of any number of “glo-fi” artists. And while indie’s seemingly endless succession of poppier “beach” bands may have only recently declared endless summers of their own, Fennesz had already been at the waterfront long before, summoning the ghosts of the Sandals and bending their essence into something strange and new without losing it entirely.

Of course, extolling the virtues and influence of a “classic” can inadvertently pigeonhole its creator. In the near decade since Endless Summer came out, many others have made bedfellows of their computers and guitars or slurred melody six ways through an effects chain, but few have consistently done so with as fine an ear for composition and as much conceptual care as Fennesz. Lest we forget, the man is a working musician, and his subsequent output — two solo albums for Touch, Venice (2004) and Black Sea (2008), as well as a slew of collaborative releases, remixes, 7-inch singles, and compilation cameos — has been as steady as it has been frequently stellar, often venturing further away from Endless Summer‘s sun-dappled shallows and into darker waters.

Take the recent live document Knoxville (Thrill Jockey), an improvised set recorded in early 2009 with experimental guitarist David Daniell and Necks’ drummer Tony Buck, which is perhaps as good a preview as any for Fennesz’s upcoming rare headlining set at the Swedish American Hall. Although billed as a trio, Daniell and Buck seem to take a backseat to Fennesz’s guitar and electronics, subtly augmenting his digitally processed guitar scrapes and chord fragments until everyone’s contributions become layered into a thickly textured undertow of noise. Like the best of Fennesz’s music, there is a strongly romantic kernel in Knoxville‘s walls of sound, an emotional tether that tightens as Buck’s rolls and scrapes, Daniell’s feedback, and Fennesz’s signal processing become more densely crosshatched. Simply put, it’s exhilarating. Much like a stolen kiss at sunset or catching your first wave.


With Odd Nosdam

Tues/28, 8 p.m., $20

Swedish American Hall

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016