Monday, December 2, 2013

Trentemøller - The Last Resort (Original TC Review)

Poker Flat Recordings: 2006

(2013 Update:
Oh my God, I thought ugly, bloated reviews like this one were a thing of my past by late '06. Way too much preamble about 'the state of the musics' in the early going, some of which is hilariously dated now. Mylo pushing "musical innovation"? Markus Schulz in the same sentence as Dirty Vegas and Audio Bullys? Save that kind of material for blog posts, guy, none of it has anything to do with Trentemøller. Right, I was attempting a segue into the notion of Anders becoming a proper breakout electronic music star, but even that angle is moot at this point. Despite earning all the accolades for
The Last Resort, Trentemøller's faded off into the realms of indie rock, shoegaze, and other assorted music unfriendly for clubbers the world over. Hardly anyone speaks of his output anymore, at least in the same reverential tone as his mid-'00s breakout.

We should have seen it coming though. This album has all the hallmarks of an electronic music producer with more on his mind than straight-forward club cuts for DJs to rinse out, for which Trentemøller was heralded for, a successful risk taken and accomplished. Even the following tour with a live band was met with kudos. Had anyone known that road would lead to the realms of indie rock, however, I wonder if those same folks would have been so eagre to sing his praises.)



IN BRIEF: A light in the dark.

In a recent discussion with fellow writer J’, our discourse led to the topic a few troubles afflicting electronic music lately. We by no means felt it was in dire straits, mind, but when compared to the critical, popular, and creative highs seen in the 90s, this decade’s certainly falling behind. While there are a number of contributing factors for this, a major one we agreed upon was the lack of breakout star producers pushing musical innovation. Sure, we have our Felix da Housecats and Vitalics and Mylos and Stuart Prices, but that’s small compared to what the 90s gave us (The Future Sound Of London, Underworld, BT, Orbital... I could go on forever). And, most likely, it was the unfortunate fact electronic music’s marketing power decided to push DJs more than producers which caused this gap, leaving many potential talented new kids on the block buried underneath the hype behind the guy who plays their records.

With the idea of superstar DJs growing passé and some of the old guard moving on, electronic music is starved for new stars. Every whiff of commercial success gets jumped on by the media, proclaiming many a producer with some unique wrinkle or clever idea as the next big thing. Many of them die quick deaths though, most of the time due to the over-hype that comes with such desperation. Audio Bullys, Markus Schulz, Fischerspooner, Dirty Vegas: just a few names that could never have hoped to meet the expectations placed on them. So, it’s been with a degree of caution many have approached Anders Trentemøller as yet another possible candidate for Breakout Star status.

Already a prolific and accomplished remixer in the ‘minimal’ scene, his underground credibility has substantially grown with each project. His music, though usually sparse, tends to surround you in a mesmerizing atmosphere of dark, dubby, glitchy soundscapes while groovy tech house rhythms play out. And while such music has been known to get lost up its own ass, Trentemøller balances it out with playful human qualities. Quite often when listening to a ‘minimal’ set, the track that will eventually snag you into actually paying attention to the music will have Anders’ touch on it.

With the underground positively buzzing and other media types picking up on it (Trentemøller has already become a punch-line for dance music pretentiousness in some circles, although it’s hardly warranted), Anders’ star was definitely on the rise. Many wondered if he’d live up to the potential many expected of him when he finally dropped his first album, or if he’d flop like other hyped producers.

I suppose the outcome of this has already been settled, as many reviews of The Last Resort have come and gone since the album was released this past October. And they have been good. Very good. In fact, Trentemøller’s debut exceeded many expectations in that he delivered a release that defied what you were supposed to get out of ‘minimal.’ Having finally managed to sit down and listen to it (living on the other side of the world often means delays... well, at least if you want to remain honest about getting albums), I must say I’m inclined to agree.

The opening track, Take Me Into Your Skin, gives us clear indication of the kind of eclecticism to expect on The Last Resort. Yes, you have your usual radio transistor drones and beluga whale clicks and micro beats that you’d expect from the minimal camps. However, Trentemøller uses such sounds as window dressing - the meat and potatoes of this track are the orchestral swells and building percussion, much of which caps off in a cacophony of sound. Easing us through it all are warm melodic tones that tenderly embrace you, like a reassuring friend guiding you down a dark path.

And with that sentence, we come to the reason for Trentemøller’s success as a musician: his songs demand metaphorical representation for description, as he creates mental imagery with his stark soundscapes. As such, the music on The Last Resort can be very personal for the listener. I could detail at great length the sort of things Anders’ music touches my psyche with but part of the charm of music in general is how it affects everyone individually, so I’ll leave that part up to you to discover for yourself.

Genres are skillfully hopped and blended without a care whether they fit into convention. Anders definitely displays a love for dub, as tracks like Evil Dub, Nightwalker, and Chameleon show. However, he doesn’t limit himself to what is expected of such music, having no problem throwing in a few glitchy squelches or dark ambient drones should it warrant it.

Other times, an affinity for score work becomes apparent, and will come as a surprise to long-time Trentemøller fans used to his club friendly output. The duo combo of Like Two Strangers and The Very Last Resort showcases just how adept at it he is. Amongst orchestral swells and pleasant bells, the former maintains a tender, if uncertain, atmosphere. Sliding into The Very Last Resort though (and tracks on here do slide into one another with ease, as any good album does), a gripping desolate feeling overcomes you. Paranoid guitars, choking sound effects, and uncertain, wandering melodies surround you with unease. It’s like The Future Sound Of London at their darkest moments.

There are other dark moments as well, such as tracks like the minimal Snowflake, but Anders does exhibit an occasional sense of fun too. Vamp in particular is a welcome jazzy romp, and the glitchy quirkiness breaking up the pleasant orchestral moments of While The Cold Winter Waiting are cute. Those aching for a club beat will find the dub techno excursion of Into The Trees satisfying.

Amongst all these various emotions Trentemøller tugs at with his music, he is most effective when he touches the tender side of sound. No matter the general feeling of a track, throughout The Last Resort you have a sense of hopeful longing, and that finally pays off towards the album’s end. Moan and Miss You are quiet, contemplative songs with comforting melodies, always a classy way to cap off an album.

Hmm. In spite of all this glowing praise, I still detect a smattering of doubt out there. I suppose Trentemøller’s association with ‘minimal’ won’t go away any time soon, and those who fear that style of techno are worried The Last Resort will be nothing more than monotonous droning, no matter what anyone says. While big riffs and boshing beats and screaming synths definitely aren’t to be found here, this shouldn’t keep you from getting this album. Even if you don’t have the patience to sit down and just listen to music, The Last Resort works just as easily as a background soundtrack - there are more than enough intriguing sounds throughout which will draw your attention, no matter how distracted by other tasks you may be.

Is Anders the potential star electronic music could use? The Last Resort certainly makes a strong claim in his favor. He’s displayed the ability of a producer who doesn’t feel constrained by what is expected of him and the skill to pull it off expertly. Trentemøller’s debut should stand up as one of the few classics of this decade future releases will be compared to. Believe this hype.

Note: You’ve probably noticed this review doesn’t contain coverage of the second CD that came with the initial release. Although I have heard it, because it was merely a limited edition bonus it’s rather pointless to discuss it at this point. This version is now the official release. However, I will mention should I have had the chance to cover it, the double-disc version of The Last Resort would have secured a rare five star rating from me. Yes, it’s that good too.


ACE TRACKS:
Take Me Into Your Skin
The Very Last Resort
Moan

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.


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