Annelies Monseré: Marit

David Wenngren: Sleepless Nights

Gent, Belgium-based Annelies Monseré follows up her 2005 debut album Helder and subsequent untitled EP with Jessica Bailiff on Belgian Morc Records with Marit, a twelve-song set of whispered incantations wrapped in sparse, uncluttered arrangements. Though guests Bailiff, Nathan Amundsen, Michael Anderson, Ellen Evers, and the Vollmar brothers contribute sounds to the project (among them strings, electric guitar, and drums), the material remains indelibly Monseré's, in large part due to her affinity for haunting folk melodies. Lyrically, the songs explore topics as diverse as leaving home and building new homes, but one attends more to the words' delivery than their content. From the outset, Monseré reduces her music to its skeletal essence, whether it be “We Left Home,” a stark folk mantra where her voice is an entranced whisper, or “Common Ground,” a delicate setting for piano and voice where shuddering trails of electric guitar resonate in the distance. The expanded approach to arrangement strengthens the material, cases in point “I Might Never See,” where a small choir and a single-note string motif form a complementary counterpoint to Monseré's twilight vocal and piano, and “Coda,” a melancholy instrumental interlude which underlays glockenspiel and melodica melodies with a string drone. Appearing amidst Monseré's timeless, mantra-like meditations is a lovely cover of the Cranes' “September,” and on the horizon are a projected full-length collaboration with Jessica Bailiff and split ten-inch with Boduf Songs for three:four records.

The other Auetic release comes from the label's founder, David Wenngren. Sleepless Nights is, formally speaking, Wenngren's debut album but, of course, his name already will be familiar to fans of Library Tapes, the guise under which he's issued a number of distinguished recordings. That he chose to release Sleepless Nights under his birth name rather than the alias is a tad surprising, given how close in spirit the new material is to Library Tapes, even if there's an overall greater emphasis on string elements and computer-based processing on this latest venture. Regardless, the nine tracks, very much in the Library Tapes tradition, are lovely indeed and will assuredly appeal to devotees of Max Richter, Arvo Pärt, and Sylvain Chauveau. Apparently the tracks were laid down during late nights and early mornings when Wenngren found himself afflicted with insomnia, and admittedly Wenngren's ambient meditations for strings and piano feel imbued with a misty calm. The release is bookended by the mirrored pieces “Another Winter” and “The Long-Awaited Sleep,” both of them emotive settings for piano sprinkles and keening strings, and features tranquil oases elsewhere. The heavily-treated piano chords that melt into sustain during “06.08, When Everything Is Quite” [sic] and “Mountains of Broken Chords” strongly evoke Eno's ambient approach. While many pieces are sparsely arranged for strings and piano, others, such as “Another Spring” and “Insomnia,” are more orchestral in nature, and as such recall Ekkehard Ehler's Betrieb (Mille Plateaux, 2000), which features orchestral samples of classical music configured into loop-based settings; the key difference, however, is that Wenngren's pieces adhere less to repetitive structures and feel more free-flowing by comparison.

October 2009