To say that a new album from Christian Fennesz is highly anticipated is probably a bit of an understatement. Since his first releases, his name has become almost synonymous with elegant microscopic sound, and his work has been referenced both as an influence for a huge number of artists and as a comparison as well. Of course, since he started releasing music, the market has flooded with musicians creating similar work, and the advances of certain software have made it easier to simulate (or copy, as it were) his once rather unique work.
That's especially true in the four years since his last solo full length Venice, and while he put out both the Sala Santa Cecilia EP and Cendre full length with Ryuichi Sakamoto, neither of those two efforts seemed to quite capture the magic of his best work (which has held up remarkably well). And so after this long (by some standards), Black Sea isn't so much a major revolution as it is a solid release that pretty much delivers what one might expect.
Over the course of eight tracks and just over fifty minutes, there is plenty of "trademark" Fennesz sound, largely created with massively filtered guitar. The end result is something that doesn't really sound like a guitar, as usual. Of course, there are trace remnants that creep through, but it's when he's powering his six string into a full orchestral plume or a skittering band of insects when he's at his best. Opening album-titled "Black Sea" seems to do just about all of those things, trading tone-dripped near-silences with huge swells of blistering grind, pastoral note floats and some simple acoustic strums. It all happens over the course of ten minutes, and pretty much encapsulates the album as a whole in that time.
From there, you get variations on that them, with some pieces (like "Grey Scale") taking a more brittle acoustic approach, others that veer into cavernous, icy ambience ("Glass Ceiling"), and others that again pretty much run the spectrum (the amazing album closer "Saffron Revolution," which ranks among the best work that Fennesz has ever done). As I mentioned in my review of Venice, I still wish that Fennesz would try something even more pop-oriented in the future (more similar to his work with David Sylvian on "Transit"), but perhaps it's too much to expect something so drastic (and that's what side-projects are for). As it stands, Black Sea is a solid, if not entirely groundbreaking. It's getting cold, though, and this is the perfect accompaniment for this kind of weather, so there is that.