Marsen Jules: Nostalgia

If Marsen Jules's Nostalgia doesn't sound like a dramatic departure from his 2005 Herbstlaub (City Centre Offices) perhaps that's by design. After all, Jules has conceived the new album (on his own Oktaf label) as being a continuation of the earlier one, and, in its eight classical-ambient ruminations, the new material perpetuates his debut release's focus on melancholia and yearning; if there's a conspicuous difference, it's that the emphasis on the new album is even more on orchestral elements, with strings especially prominent.

Establishing the album's meditative tone, “A Moment of Grace” features massive exhalations of church organ and strings that eschew melody for atmospheric presence, as if the elements are collectively intent on establishing a space for reflection rather than delineating a melodic trajectory. Huge string formations roll in threateningly, blanketing “Endless Whisper of the Old Brigade” and “Shadows/Waltz” in darkness and rumble. Liberal doses of reverb and sustain give the material a Gas-like grandeur, and only the absence of beats makes the connection to Wolfang Voigt's project (Zauberberg in particular) less immediately obvious. Perpetuating the dark tone is “Sweet Sweet Longing” in its convulsive cello surges, which makes it all the more welcome to find the album exiting in a more uplifting state via “Sleep My Brother, Sleep,” five minutes of peaceful splendour that suggests light breaking through oppressive storm clouds.

While Jules's brooding and ethereal settings are very assertive in terms of sonic colour—the dream-like ebb-and-flow of strings, harps, and percussion comprising “Kunderas Dream” hardly constitutes wallpaper music, for instance—, his music is truly ambient in one key sense: instead of pursuing narrative development, the pieces largely cycle in place, with Jules looping a given setting's motifs into a circular, self-contained formation that essentially renders it the sonic equivalent of a Möbius strip. This, in turn, lends his music a rather paradoxical quality in making it feel simultaneously frozen in time and locked in perpetual motion.

August 2011