Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade/Shock) CD review

It’s all about piles. No, not hemorrhoids, although my piles can be just as vexing, if not as painful. Inevitably, review CDs pile up, waiting patiently to be auditioned, and occasionally the really good ones get left out in the cold. It’s all about process. I try to be even-handed in listening to CDs in the order they arrived in my mailbox, and without discrimination. But the sad fact is that when you hear something really good, you want to give it your very best attention, and it often demands that attention. What this means is that the crappy CDs get listened to and dispensed with, while you build up a small pile of “must listen to that again before I put pinky to keyboard”. And then what happens? Sometimes, I must admit, their currency fades and I don’t quite get around to reviewing them.

But enough about me. Black Noise by Pantha Du Prince has been well-reviewed around the planet since its release back in February 2010, but mostly by those hip publications that people with expensive stereos don’t read. Which means that one of the most meticulously-recorded albums of the year won’t find an ear amongst those who care about such things.

Of course, the majority of hi-fi fans eschew electronics and “artificial” audio in favour of the most accurate, life-like replications of “real” instruments. Fair enough, but electronic music has its place in the sound spectrum, and there have been some terrific sonic odysseys in the genre.

Pantha Du Prince is German chap Hendrik Weber, and his previous albums have been sleek minimalist techno. While Black Noise has all the typical characteristics of a classic piece of ambient-oriented minimalist techno, complete with a sound design you could eat for breakfast, it distinguishes itself from the field by adding layers of melancholy drone, presumably provided by guitars, and sometimes bell-like tones.

This extra layer calls to mind the end-of-time feeling of Joy Division, as well as the drone-scapes of projects like This Mortal Coil and My Bloody Valentine. In effect, what Weber is doing is mixing the non-emotive qualities of electronic music with the rich impressionistic drapery of entirely different genres, and it makes for a point of difference that is at times, quite compelling.

Although genres like dubstep have become more fashionable than techno, as a genre it still works, especially when it escapes from its dance prerogative. There are several slightly more ‘banging’ tracks here that would probably get those teutonic types on the dancefloor, but Black Noise is at its best when its working its almost hypnotic magic via gently ticking rhythms and those vaporous textures.

There are a few surprising twists here: ‘The Splendour’ would make a good theme song to a remake of Halloween, and ‘Stick To My Side’ features Animal Collective vocalist Noah Lennox in his typical Brian Wilson meets Charles Manson mode. ‘Behind The Stars’ recalls late ’70s S&M industrialists DAF, with pieces of Aphex Twin and early Autechre thrown in for good measure. The stereo-panning on ‘Welt Am Draht’ recalls Kraftwerk on their classic ‘Trans Europe Express’, while the short ‘Im Bann’ has the introverted feeling of ’80s guitarist Vini Reilly.

There are several other German electronic producers whose sound design is equal to, or better than, that of Pantha Du Prince – notably Monolake and several of the acts who record for the Kompakt label – but Black Noise is finely nuanced, digitally tweaked, and has one of the deepest, tightest bottom ends I’ve heard all year. It’s also a really good album. GARY STEEL

Sound = 4.5

Music = 4

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