Bola: Gnayse

Faced with the task of critiquing Gnayse, the reviewer wrestles with that perrennial conundrum: should said assessment restrict itself to the recording alone, or should it be broached contextually as the latest addition to the artist's oeuvre? Considered in isolation, Gnayse is a laudable enough exercise in refined, classical-influenced IDM; heard as the third in the Bola (Darrell Fitton) series coming after Soup (1998) and Fyuti (2002), Gnayse sounds less impassioned by comparison, even if it does signify a commendable stylistic departure from its predecessors.

Upon its initial release (Skam reissued it in 2003), Bola's debut garnered ample acclaim and justifiably so. Years later, it still sounds fresh, teeming with imagination and invention, its focus compositional quality and stylistic contrasts rather than complex programming. The collection encompasses mellow soul-jazz (“Aguilla”), propulsive machine funk (“W.I.K.”), and wistful, cascading melodicism (“Forcasa 3”) and, on tracks like the epic “Glink” and thunderous “Amnion,” Fitton proves a deft hand at dynamic development too. A model advancement, Fyuti makes good on Soup's promise by broadening the sound palette and adding more polished production values with no diminishment in compositional quality. The sophomore outing is as wide-ranging as the first, with episodes of vocodered funk (“Pae Paoe”), restless industrial clatter (“Veronex Cypher”), and chilled ambient drama (“VM8”), stylistic variety reigning despite the album's overriding melancholy mood.

On the new release, Fitton accentuates his music's symphonic dimension; anyone seeking electronic anarchy and blistering noise should definitely look elsewhere. Rather than flirting with hip-hop-inflected electronica as Fyuti occasionally does, Gnayse fuses classical, cinematic, and electronic styles into a lush and sometimes majestic hybrid. Still, a too-conspicuous formula—percolating beats paired with atmospheric overlays of melancholy electronic tones and deep swells of orchestral strings—gradually coalesces as the album unfolds.

In the melancholy opener “Eluus,” Fitton merges billowing melodies with dubby pinprick clatter and then, three minutes in, adds see-sawing, Glass-like strings; the elements aren't integrated so much as layered atop one another, an approach that emerges in later pieces too (“Pfane Pt 1,” “Pfane Pt 2,” “Papnwea”); regardless, “Eluus” remains an inarguably lovely composition. The album's pieces typically evolve from ambient intros into more aggressive episodes and then decompress into becalmed codas, and generally juxtapose Eno-like ambience, classical piano stylings, and electronic strings with spindly staccato beat patterns (though “Papnwea” does offer a subtle hip-hop taste in its punchy, throbbing beats). And, while there's no denying the magnificence of its richly textured sound design, the wordless vocals in “Effanalor” nudge it a little too close to New Age territory.

Interestingly, Fitton has called Soup “naïve,” a description open to multiple interpretations though presumably he means less sophisticated. Certainly Gnayse is flawlessly executed and perfectly realized but what Soup might lack in refinement, it makes up for in energy; heard in the developmental context of its predecessors, Gnayse sounds as if Soup's rougher edges have been buffed to a too-polished sheen. It hardly surprises that the album impresses most (“Sirasancerre” and “Effaninor”) when tracks feature beats robust enough to rival any heard on Soup.

January 2005