Lawrence: The Absence of Blight

To the uninitiated, the hand-written typography and elegant B&W landscape photography that grace The Absence of Blight's packaging might suggest a collection of ten songs from some obscure guitar-strumming singer-songwriter. The tiny Kompakt logo on the back side is the first hint that such an assumption would be wrong. Of course, fans of Kompakt's unique brand of minimal techno will already be familiar with the name Lawrence, having enjoyed perhaps his contributions to Total 2 (“Gilbert”') and Total 3 (“Teaser”), or maybe his other recordings for the Hamburg-based Dial label. But nothing prepares one for the amazing leap he makes with The Absence of Blight as he couples Kompakt's inimitable tech-house style with compositions of such richness and depth that the results are breathtaking. As it turns out, the design concept complements the music perfectly as both conjure melancholy autumnal states and evoke that time of day referred to as 'the gloaming.' The term was immortalized in classical circles by Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, specifically “Im Abendrot” with its text from Joseph von Eichendorff. While doing so might seem pretentious, Eichendorff's poem needs to be quoted in its entirety as it so aptly conveys the deeply poignant aura of Lawrence 's recording:

Through want and joy we have
walked hand in hand;
we are (both) resting from our travels
now, the quiet countryside below us.

Around us the valleys incline;
already the air grows dark.
Two larks still soar alone
half-dreaming, into the haze.

Come here, and let them fly about;
soon it is time for sleep.
We must not go astray
in this solitude.

O spacious, tranquil peace,
so profound in the gloaming.
How tired we are of traveling—
is this perchance death?

And still the electronic music fan understandably remains skeptical: How could a recording of Berlin techno possibly evoke the depths and twilight mood so evocatively captured by the poem? Lawrence, in fact, accomplishes exactly that, and manages the remarkable feat of doing in a Kompakt context what Fennesz did with Endless Summer. Although the latter's prior recordings had dazzled listeners with their unique and compelling processing treatments of guitar, it was Endless Summer that stunned listeners for its emotional depth and represented a huge artistic leap for Fennesz; not insignificantly, he managed to introduce such emotionalism without compromising on the integrity of his advanced style. Lawrence manages something similar here, by achieving affecting emotional depths while still staying true to the smooth Kompakt style. A perfect middle ground is mapped between impeccably realized compositions and house and techno rhythms.

The overall emphasis on melancholy melodies and haunting tones lends the recording poignancy rooted in feelings of nostalgia and yearning. The first track alone, “Fifteen Minutes with You,” highlights the incredible amount of compositional detail that appears throughout the recording. Shimmering waves of washes, glistening tones, and bell accents establish the sombre mood. Lawrence then gradually adds layers of synths, bass drum, snare, percussion, bass, and electric piano which advance and recede, allowing the shimmering background and bass to anchor the piece. The magisterial “If You Can't Understand” similarly builds in intensity as layers accumulate until the piece settles into an insistent looping array of ride cymbals, bass, and synth patterns, and is then overlaid by extended spectral tones. In classic techno style, layers drop away, leaving an irresistibly funky bass and intricate synth lines, and then gradually fade in again. It's significant that the wavering two-note melody underlying “Last Friday” evokes so clearly Satie's “Gymnopédie I,” as both exude such affecting melancholy. Yet, here and elsewhere, Lawrence takes that mood and renders it joyous with the addition of Kompakt beats. Midway through, Lawrence drops out the layers, leaving the base melody only, but then gradually adds rhythms, transforming it into one of the most gorgeous pieces heard in recent memory.

Lawrence raises the bar considerably for Kompakt with The Absence of Blight. The label has already given us so much great music, not only with its Total series but with so many of its individual artists' recordings. But Lawrence moves the label into deeper territory with these ten compositions and yet never betrays his fundamental allegiance to the Kompakt sound. It's an incredible accomplishment when a recording merges moods of melancholy and uplift so naturally but The Absence of Blight does so compellingly.

November 2003