Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk: Passage
Azure Vista Records

Passage is pretty much what you might expect from a collaboration involving Danish producer Jonas Munk and London-by-Berlin-based electronic maestro Ulrich Schnauss—not that there's anything wrong with that. It's not, by the way, the first time their talents have converged: listed at Discogs is an earlier set, which, for whatever reason, appears to have been released between 2010 and 2013 under three different titles and in four slightly different versions (fourteen tracks on one, twelve on another, and eleven on another still) on the labels Episode and Pedigree Cuts. Issued both on the latter and Munk's own freshly hatched Azure Vista Records, the new eleven-song release offers an opportunity to hear what the two have gotten up to in the time since that earlier collection.

Munk is well-known for the ambient work he's produced under the Manual name as well as the guitar playing he's contributed to the psych-rock outfit Causa Sui; for his part, Schnauss first established himself with a number of top-drawer electronic shoegaze-styled releases on Domino and City Centre Offices and in recent years has garnered attention for remixing artists such as Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys and for being a member of Tangerine Dream since 2013. It shouldn't come as a major surprise, then, that the tracks on Passage draw upon the duo's ambient, melodic electronica, instrumental rock, and shoegaze pasts. And neither should it surprise that the songs aren't paint-by-numbers riffs on the individual genres but instead polished, multi-dimensional instrumentals that integrate the styles into genre-transcending wholes.

The two repeatedly show themselves to be ideal partners: Munk's guitar playing lends the expansive instrumental backings individuating personality; the luscious scene-painting Schnauss contributes provides the guitarist with radiant fields of sound to emote against. Of course, separating their roles in said manner is probably inaccurate; one presumes, instead, that both are equally responsible for the multitude of sounds that appears in any given track. That being said, Munk's prominently featured guitar work is identifiable when marked by his signature touch (as it is on a representative track such as “Caffeine Blues”).

At the outset, “Amaris” immediately makes a compelling argument for the project when Munk's six-string sparkle floats breezily amidst a luscious bed of ambient haze; elsewhere, the guitarist alternately amplifies the material with ambient textures and boosts its bite with an aggressive snarl. At certain moments, Passage time-travels to the ‘70s and ‘80s: adding a reverb-drenched drum pattern to a chiming, shoegaze-tinged track like “MST” will do that, of course, as will powering the groove in “Spellbreaker” with a New Order-styled bass line. Taken as a whole, the album impresses, not just for the quality of its material and sound design but for its vitality, too; anything but complacent, Munk and Schnauss sound fully engaged and invested, and the material is naturally all the better for it.

February 2017