Pantha du Prince – Black Noise

A lot of people seem to consider Pantha du Prince a “minimalist artist.” Hearing this term, especially when referring to Hendrik Weber’s techno project, just makes me cringe. “Minimal” implies that there just isn’t a whole lot going on in the production of this kind of music. It implies single notes and small chords sustained rhythmically over a predictable period of time and pendulous thumping bass beats that flow with the same bland monotony as the lines on a highway. Perhaps this may have been true of Weber’s last work, the evocative This Bliss, but no longer. On the contrary, Pantha du Prince’s newer compositions take a shift towards highly dense and intricate arrangements, and on his most recent excursion Black Noise, it shows. Big time.

It only takes the first song “Lay in a Shimmer” to quickly dispel this stereotype. A melody softly flows in with the gentleness of wind chimes echoing in a breeze, followed by many delicate melodic and percussion tracks. As the Impressionist style album cover suggests, The Prince’s newest record is one that reflects the delicacy of nature. It lacks the deliberateness of Four Tet’s recent There is Love in You, though, and takes a much more subtle approach to this glorification of the organic. As far as techno goes, Black Noise is not very aggressive; it’s not trying too hard to get you up off your feet. Instead, it rewards the attentive with a rich sonic environment that should be savored with repeated listens as you peel it layer by layer.

If I was going to weave any extravagant metaphors to describe this kind of music, I would perhaps compare it to a watch: the individual pieces that are laid together in a watch are, by themselves, fairly simple machines and gears, packed tightly so that there is little unoccupied space within. However, when they are meticulously laid in a sequence to function as one moving body is when the machine as a whole is capable of working its magic. That’s, in essence, how Pantha du Prince’s Black Noise functions, as many distinct parts working together in efficient harmony.

Getting right back to the music itself, this new record is certainly a detachment from This Bliss, albeit a subtle one. The complex arrangement of inherently simple parts is still intact, but this time around there’s much less bite. Everything flows much softer; the sharp edges that normally come with synthesized music have been polished down to smooth tips, doing nothing short of accentuating the evocative aspect of the music. The newly fresh Prince has never been more able to whisk you away in profound thought than he is now.

The delicacy of tracks such as “Welt Am Draht” and the opener “Lay In A Shimmer” serve as perfect examples, unfolding in breaths of melody rather than thick brush strokes. The layers of sound chime innumerably in crystalline clarity with the care of a watercolor painter and the percussion is thin enough to keep one swaying rather than shaking. Don’t think, however, that the entire record is lacking in that carnal force we know and love for making us dance like pagans. After some pin drops of sharp sounds on follower “Abglanz,” the beat kicks in and the song pings with melody. “A Nomads Retreat” and “Bohemian Forest” are also heavier in the bass department, the latter epitomizing that aforementioned kinship to nature, with samples that reminisce of leaves, creaking wood, and wind chimes swaying in the breeze. Closing track “Es Schneit” carries the heaviness that seems to be implicit with snowy landscapes, with multilayered tracks of airy melodies that congregate into a white wall of falling sustained notes.

One thing that will undoubtedly garner a lot of attention for this album is its two collaborative works. “The Splendour,” featuring both Tyler Pope of LCD Soundsystem and !!! and gratuitous use of ping-pong balls, carries an oddly infectious melody over its light pinging and ponging. With its enthrallingly mysterious sound and all the samples, this track in particular may come off as Four Tet-ish, but it remains nonetheless much more Weber than Hebden. The other collaboration “Stick To My Side” features none other than Noah Lennox, aka. Panda Bear, of Animal Collective. This subtle, dim melody is a very unusual setting for the man whose music usually explores brighter realms of rapturous atmosphere; his outstanding (in the literal sense) voice sounds very prominent over the subtlety of the music. This does not necessarily harm the song itself, as it is one of the catchiest songs on the record; I often find myself humming the chorus “Stick to my side/ Why stick to the things that I’ve already tried?” against my better judgment. However, the placement of his voice sounds very peculiar, at least until the end of the song, in which a violin manages to match the presence of Lennox’s voice.

After hearing Four Tet’s latest excellent endeavor, I almost thought that I wouldn’t see another techno record this year that could put up a fight. Lo and behold, it’s been topped in no more than a week and I’m left feeling both humbled at my naïvete and extremely proud of the electronic artist I had put so much faith in three years ago after his promising This Bliss. Whether Weber stays at the top remains to be seen; what we do know at this point is that Pantha du Prince seems to have found his creative niche and is extracting it to its full potential, much to the awe of fan and stranger alike, and that 2010 is already proving to be an excellent year for electro. And there’s nothing “minimal” about that.

Score: A-

by Mason “Less is more” McGough

1 Comment

  1. New Review: Pantha du Prince – Black Noise « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Pantha du Prince – Black Noise, by Mason McGough […]

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