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[Ghostly International; 2011]

By ; January 11, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Classical isn’t unchartered territory in any realm of electronic music that can call samples its weapon of choice. Polish producer Michael Jacaszek, however, is often tagged with the nebulous descriptor ‘neo-classical’ before any electronic music sub-genres come knocking on his door. Jacaszek’s 2008 cult breakout of a record, Treny, paced itself within the framework of minimal or ambient techno, but delighted enough in long form melodic violin and female vocal centerpieces to step gracefully out of a purely electronic context. Yet, while Treny rarely stumbled across any semblance of percussion save for throbbing hisses and distant woodblock exchanges, the edges of its looped arrangements remained fairly visible. Follow up, Pentral, was a more experimental, often pedantic exercise, but continued much of what had been outlined on Treny.

Jacaszek’s fifth LP, Glimmer, is a different record. The differences are subtle, but apparent enough to feel like an inversion or balancing of any sort of approach that might result in a simple “classical via electronic” description. Listening to Treny often felt like consuming an immaculately layered and detailed painting alternately veering in and out  of abstraction and tangibility. Glimmer lets its instrumentation breathe. Jacaszek feels more interested in a linear climb of the beautifully barbed and melodic arrangements, up and down peaks and valleys or across codas and bridges. “Dare-gale,” for instance, starts with a piano mixed completely into the low end, muffled by a thick layer of vinyl crackle, and ends with a swelling cascade of chimes and harpsichord notes like an ocean wave moving a few frames per second finally crashing onto a quiet shore.

Glimmer‘s immediacy comes through in the form of individual, identifiable instruments – harpsichords, violins, cellos, pianos, clarinets – treading the confines of baroque chamber music more often than anything that might result in the size implications of “classical.” The music on Glimmer feels resonate, sharp and intricate like landscapes populated with tiny copper figurines. There’s a tangible surface to the sounds where tracks from previous releases seemed to endlessly weave in tendrils made of smoke or fog. Jacaszek still likes his sandpaper textures, but much of the ambiguity (reverb) is stripped away and Jacazek himself has receded further into the patchwork, employing a defter and more transparent hand. One of the most revelatory moments on Glimmer is one of its barest. Near the end of opener “Goldengrove,” after a collage of inverted cellos and unwinding string plucks, a patient solitary harpsichord plays a simple three chord melody into the silence before its joined momentarily by a piano mimicking the progression. It’s like a deep breath of cold air to clear the listener’s thoughts before continuing the trek into the next song.

But there is still enough textured ugliness and bite to Glimmer to keep its instrumentation from becoming one note. “Evenings Strain to be Time’s Vast” pulsates with a malfunctioning industrial undertone beneath droning bass clarinets before a wall of ragged static climbs up its center. The mid-section of “Seldenen Stille” bubbles up with a decaying choral sample. And the end of “Only Not Within Seeing of the Sun” melds, what sounds like, an electric guitar melting in bitcrushed feedback with its spiraling harpsichords. I will say the consistency of Jacaszek’s instrumentation and song structure almost does Glimmer in near the latter portions of the record. I’ve said “harpsichord” enough times for there to be an idea of just how constant the arrangements are, and it’s surprising each song is able to find an identity within such unwavering cohesion. While Jacaszek has managed to construct his most song-oriented and approachable record yet, Glimmer‘s triumph remains the ability to sound like more than electronic music with exceeding grace and ingenuity.


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