Stendeck: Sonnambula
Tympanik Audio

Having spent a decade perfecting his Stendeck sound (the name a variation of the final Morse code radio message sent by the plane Stardust in 1947 before mysteriously disappearing), Lugano, Switzerland-born Alessandro Zampieri joins Tympanik Audio for the release of his third full-length. It's clearly a natural fit, as the Stendeck style—epic electronica sprinkled with piano and an occasional electric guitar—dovetails perfectly with the label aesthetic. With seventeen tracks squeezed into seventy-one minutes, Sonnambula might appear to be overstuffed but it feels otherwise when each piece efficiently states its case in about four minutes before stepping aside.

The anthemic swarm of rampaging beats and high-octane synth lines that rips open “Something Special is Going to Happen” suggests that it might be better titled “Something Special Is Happening Right Now.” Of course, the original title is intended to be a harbinger of glories to come and in that regard it's not totally off the mark. The sixteen tracks that follow make good on the promise of that opening salvo by battering multi-tiered synth- and piano-based arrangements with a constant barrage of squashed beats, the combination of which will almost make you forget that “intelligent electronica” ever went out of critical favour.

Sonnambula runs the stylistic gamut from stampeding ferocity (“Different Exotic Forms of Lightning and Collateral Atmospheric Phenomena”) and epic IDM (“Safari in the Blue Tails Cockatoo's Garden”) to shoegaze-inflected electronica (“I Fear All the Moments You Will Need Me and I Won't Be There”), vaporous ambient (“Hunters of the Last Summer Breeze”), and even a pretty piano-and-strings interlude (“Happy Little Children Playing on the Cherry Tree”). Par for the genre course, many tracks ooze portent (“Dead Dancing Triangle”) and apocalyptic gloom (“Blind Army Parade”), and Zampieri draws upon multiple genres—drum'n'bass (“Lullabies from the Cliff By the Raging Sea”), hip-hop (“Blind Army Parade”), techno-funk (“Dead Dancing Triangle”), among them—in his beatsmithing quest. Unusual for an album of this kind, “Every Time I Try to Reach You, You Just Fade Away,” with its emotive synth lines and razor-sharp beats, is so catchy it could almost pass for a single.

April 2009