Denzel and Huhn Paraport

[City Centre Offices; 2007]

Styles: minimal electro with generous passages of static and acoustic stuff
Others: Jan Jelinek, Pole, Fennesz, Ornament and Verbrechen, Lippok brothers

With techno tracks becoming increasingly lengthy (cf. Ricardo Villalobos’ “Fizheuer Zieheuer” or James Murphy’s 45:33 track for Nike), an electro album composed of 15 “short” songs -- the longest just over 4 minutes -- seems like a sketchpad. Sketchbooks, however, spill over with excesses, show smudges, mistakes, and erasures. By contrast, Paraport is the work of artists who wield ample powers and commensurate restraint. Their album is no messy blotter of ideas; I think instead of a chapbook rendered exquisitely self-sufficient in its poetic brevity.

I recently read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities for the first time, and Paraport reminds me a lot of Calvino’s masterpiece. The authors suffuse strings of succinct reflections with melancholic beauty. Always intelligent, but rarely didactic, they enliven their esoteric vocabularies with palpable, urban signifiers. Cities and Paraport abound in ravishing ideas, each given just enough time to captivate the reader/listener while being cleverly, confidently occluded.

“Kleiner Bruder,” for example, opens with epic orchestral surges, isolated punches of sub-bass, and a single sine wave ringing and trembling steadily in the distance like a guiding star. When the strings drop out and the ringing continues, I feel like a mage prepared for a mythic pilgrimage, ready to follow the track anywhere. A pause and then a direct, unassuming acoustic guitar line steps surely through squirming, melodic errata and alleviates the song’s climactic tension. Soon after, the strings return for a few seconds, and I feel suspended between two layers of the atmosphere: one close to vacuum, another seething with incipient disaster. The song is over.

Some artists could spend careers pursuing the kind of sonic dexterity Denzel and Huhn show off in songs like “Kleiner Bruder” and “Paraport.” Their aural spectrum includes Kraftwerk bleeps, minimalist clicks and scratches, shorn, buzzing synths, mournful, decaying drones, and a range of sounds that could be the result of human hands playing with either machines or instruments. Warm, churning sweeps of static make a grainy base layer for several tracks. Often, all of these elements coincide, and listening then is like looking at a coring from an ancient settlement: everything from broken soil to sophisticated tools is visible in the same cross-section of earth. But, as is clear in “Kleiner Bruder,” the Berlin duo does more than paint pretty tonal portraits. These former soundtrack producers imbue their pieces with a masterfully concise sense of drama. Tracks enchant without following conventional patterns of build-up and let down; they seem to appear, (r)evolve, and disappear as naturally and dangerously as poisonous mushroom colonies.

It’s rare to encounter a record with the quiet majesty of Paraport, a record whose discipline and potent imagination augment its musicality from start to finish. It’s obliquely, comprehensively catchy: having listened to it, I can’t get its sounds or ideas out of my head. Don’t miss it.

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