Kansas-born, Brussels-based artist Christina Vantzou’s debut collection of 2011, titled ‘No. 1’, caused its share of ripples through the outlying enclaves of the music blog world. Formerly of Dead Texan and a touring member of Sparklehorse, Vantzou’s solo material emerged as some of the most organic-sounding electronic fare ever heard, rightly complemented by warm flourishes of orchestral embellishment. You might call it neo-classical, if that meant anything more than the latest Nils Frahm album.
Which ‘No. 2’, released through Chicago’s Kranky label, certainly is – not to knock the incredible Frahm, of course. These 11 tracks follow their forebears by building on their foundations, developing the chamber music aspects, and realising something truly wonderful. Unsettling, certainly, on more than a few occasions. But wonderful is the descriptor that sticks after so many listens to this entirely enveloping LP.
A relatively short set with nary a second spent wallowing without direction, this is instrumental music, ambient music, with thrust and purpose, as beautiful as the colours dancing over tired eyes on a prolonged train ride, their owner lost in these moments. It can creep out the listener, too – ‘Brain Frog’ is a number which sets icy screech against sheets of rising squall, akin to someone like Brian Eno washing up against a landscape framed by the early soundtracks of Elliot Goldenthal. Think Alien 3, without all the running around.
‘Vancouver Island Quartet’ is another track possessing disquieting qualities, its balance between Julianna Barwick-like choral vocals and newly introduced woodwind a brilliant realised but distinctly spooked one. Elsewhere, efforts such as ‘Sister’, which crescendos like a lyrics-less National number with its broken heart bypassed, and the elegant opener ‘Anna Mae’ serve as vital contrast to the album’s darker directions, chinks of dazzling light serving as navigational aids through this intriguing soundworld.
Vantzou’s music isn’t of a kind that arrives unheralded – not only does her previous work set expectations for this collection, but the aforementioned Barwick, and the material of Nashville’s Hammock, are precursors, too. (Not to mention the earliest ambient experimentalists and contemporary classicists too numerous to list.) But that ‘No. 2’ doesn’t sing with a singular appeal does nothing to affect its exquisiteness. This is wordless music with weight and emotional pull enough to snap a drifting commuter to attention, to take it in like so few albums of its breed can be: as a work in and of itself, and not simply an accompaniment to a life lived at speed.
Slow down. Close your eyes. Watch this unfold a while.
Words: Mike Diver
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