Christian Fennesz, affiliated with Vienna's notoriously irreverent Mego collective, has already ruffled feathers more than once with his decidedly catholic take on "experimental" music. His +47 Degrees release (Touch) adhered acceptably to the glitch-and-squall template that's come to underpin so much contemporary digital whatchamacallit. But his reworking of the Beach Boys and the Stones on the single "Plays" (reissued briefly by Jim O'Rourke's Moikai label after its hasty disappearance from Mego) got something of a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter reaction from the stands, although, remarkably, it wasn't jokey, simply beautiful, like a cartoon given flight. Now, Endless Summerreturns to Fennesz's fascination with the Beach Boys and their hyperchromatic pop.
At least, that's what the album's cover art and title would have us believe, and I'll take them at their word. But Endless Summer doesn't overtly invoke the Beach Boys, either in structure or in tone and that's perhaps its greatest strength. Instead of exploiting the obvious kitsch or trumping up Beach Boys stylistics in hyper-real detailing, à la High Llamas, Fennesz extracts some nameless quality that defies exact mapping, but is tied to its original as inextricably as a reflection in a rippled pool.
This isn't pop, though, by any stretch of the imagination ambient, perhaps; "glitch," even, if we're going to honor the term here. But ultimately Endless Summer, like all Fennesz' work, refuses to resolve to a neat generic summation. The music seems to flicker like one of those grooved buttons that shows two different images depending on the angle at which it's viewed: sugary pop harmonics flash brightly and are quickly spun into their converse, a ragged digital grain that has no truck with melody, harmony or structure.
"Made in Hongkong" crackles like an early Oval track, lusciously rich underneath its frayed pavement scrabble. Its title even sounds like one of Oval's riffs on economic boosterism such as "Cross-selling," and the theme reveals an unconscious affinity with photographer Andreas Gursky. If Gursky's photographs depict a kind of 'roid-riled global capitalism with a realism hopped up on detail, Fennesz and Oval present an almost romanticized view of its aesthetic excesses.
Where Fennesz does come down to earth to play with pop, there are more immediate references than the Beach Boys' proto-psychedelia: "Endless Summer" is the best track Flying Saucer Attack never wrote. The guitar has always been at the core of Fennesz' recordings, but here he drops his coy treatments and just full-on strums the fucker, although he gauzes it up with fuzz and echo. In its alienness, it's everything you always wanted FSA's songs to be. If that band's darkly psychedelic vision left it mired in its own murk, here the light is so sharp that every buzzing string casts a shadow.
And "A Year in A Minute," so simple, opens up a ragged hole in the air, playing tricks with positive and negative space like a solarized photograph. It's in tricks like these that Fennesz distinguishes himself: so much more than an ironist or footnote fiend, he crafts intricate compositions that make you question your very perception.