lrich Schnauss has got it tough. His is a fanbase divided—he needs to satisfy those fans of ambient electronica who are still intoxicated by the aesthetic of the sound, and those who demand structures, melodies, and rhythms to keep their attention. Debut effort Far Away Trains Passing By was a gorgeous haze or a soporific drift, an immersive bliss or a dragging blur, featuring nothing memorable at all—or is that kinda the point? 2003 follow-up A Strangely Isolated Place was more involving, frequently rousing in fact, and sometimes enthralling—it satisfied just about everyone who heard it, even the sleepy-headed fans of Far Away Trains who weren’t used to such action and adventure. Schnauss achieved this by making a connection between the elongated ambience of Boards of Canada and the guitar-sourced drones and sweeps of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. “We don’t sound like them,” Boards’ Michael Sandison once said of MBV, but Schnauss clearly thought they did.
With Goodbye, Schnauss gets even closer to shoegaze, most notably by bridging the clearest divide between Isolated Place and, say, Souvlaki, by introducing vocals so clear you can almost make out the lyrics. The churchy first-track demonstrates the ‘old’ way, with ghostly and indistinct vocals deep in the mix contributing unobtrusively to the sound, before Rob McVey from Longview and Judith Beck take the reins and spoil the party. McVey’s winsome lament exposes “Shine” as a soft-rock ballad which no amount of clever sonic smudging can save. Judith Beck’s mechanical vocals on “Stars” aren’t quite so ruinous, but it’s not until they finish that the dazzling density of the soundscape can be heard. Schnauss says that “Some of these songs have about 100 tracks playing simultaneously,” which is great. It’s just too bad he mixes the vocal track so high that you can’t make out much of anything else. Elsewhere he keeps the vocals engulfed within a maelstrom of sonics. Based on these experiments, that’s where Schnauss should keep them.
From here Goodbye needs rescuing, and it’s a slow process wading through the thick swathes of reverb and layers of murky texture that follow. Finally exorcising the bad karma of “Shine” is album (if not career) highlight “Medusa.” With its crunchy bass synths and clattering beats, “Medusa” is industrial, noisy, and weighty in a way that contrasts sharply with everything else he’s ever done: call it thrill-not-chill. It’s followed by the enchanting and epic title track, which goes through several beguiling movements of interlocking waves and echoing chords, all supporting a simple descending melody.
After listening to Goodbye, Isolated Place sounds better than ever before—it’s consistently beautiful, and not as indebted to memories of the early ‘90s as you might think. In contrast, Goodbye contains both the best and the worst of Schnauss’ output until now—with the help of a skip-button, it can only aid an enthusiastic appreciation for Schnauss’ considerable talents.
Reviewed by: Ally Brown
Reviewed on: 2007-06-19