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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Ambient music is hard to do right. For every Aphex Twin or Global Communication — or Brian Eno for that matter — there are plenty of records that are so chilled-out, they’re cold and amount to little more than sonic wallpaper. Ulrich Schnauss has been an exception. Through no fault of his own, his introduction to American audiences has been backwards-assed. His last record to come out domestically, 2005’s Farwaway Trains Passing By, was actually his first, finding shoegazer bliss in the wistful ebb and flow of beats and layered, shimmering synths that would rather feel bad than nothing at all, like the Cocteau Twins producing beats for EPMD.

Since then, he has moved into more standard electronic fare, becoming favorite of progressive house DJs for his melancholy melodies and the ability to wind up on the more emotional side of trance. But while early Schnauss efforts embraced their limitations — stretching synth strings, making clever drum-machine beats — with Goodbye, he has an arsenal of equipment. (The press release for the album boasts that some songs used a hundred tracks’ worth of recorded material; the result is sheer overkill.) Tracks don’t inspire as demand your attention; instead of evoking emotion it dictates it with chiming shoegazer guitars that sounded dated 15 years ago, and ominous bass lines better suited for films than home listening. Vocals are so buried and processed that it’s hard to make out what’s said. The result is a kind of half-speed trance, layers of shiny stuff without much soul beneath it.

Schnauss is hyper-talented as a producer. On "Stars," he slows-down a record to great effect, to shake up the Enya-antics, but it’s a little too little late. What began as a meditation on the rich emotional contradictions of parting becomes an enigma comeback record. He better hope the chanting monks don’t sue.


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