Jan Jelinek Tierbeobachtungen

[~Scape; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: experimental electronic, minimalist techno, post-rock, Krautrock
Others: Stephan Mathieu, Philip Jeck, Machinefabriek, Can

What initially made German producer Jan Jelinek’s earlier work (particularly 2001’s masterpiece Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records) so revolutionary was the unprecedented and extraordinarily progressive manner in which he employed a cut-and-paste hip-hop aesthetic within his pieces, which, in the end, sounded decidedly un-hip-hop. All the same, there was a rhythmic, if not melodic, logic to Jelinek’s tracks that allowed them to remain anchored, however tenuously, to the realm of European techno/house. His fourth ~Scape release, Tierbeobachtungen, while more abstract and comprising considerably less in the way of tempo and identifiable time signatures, is nonetheless a more engaging and even accessible work. While Jelinek’s earlier recordings, including his output as Farben and Gramm, were more intimate affairs, suggesting the compactness and perhaps even claustrophobia of small rooms and enclosed spaces, Tierbeobachtungen, by and large, is a much more expansive effort, evoking infinitely broader, more lushly spacious sonic landscapes. Certainly there exists something filmic in Jelinek’s production, which suffuses these sweeping, atmospheric tracks with something grand and ambitious in scale. Listening to the album is like watching a narrative unfold before you; fragments of these six protracted cuts gradually make their presence known, before ultimately receding into the distance, only to be supplanted by something as equally amorphous and ephemeral.

Something of an extension of 2005’s Kosmischer Pitch, Tierbeobachtungen is an even more dramatic departure from the minimal house and omnipresent sounds of damaged electronics that characterize Jelinek’s earlier work. Though he still continues to work with a wide-ranging palette of sound sources in a distinctly loop-based environment, the snatches of sound with which the listener is presented on this record are much more clearly identifiable. Vocal samples, a single chiming note played on a guitar, feedback, and ominous rumblings coalesce to create a dense, leaden soundscape. Rudimentary rhythms and even hints of melody are introduced on “The Ballad of Soap…,” which employs all manner of neo-psychedelic guitar effects, backwards loops, and various and sundry other audio peculiarities that aggregate atop one another to form an extended, droning raga of sorts, until the piece is finally undercut, in the last couple of minutes, by eerie, Cold War-era sci-fi sound effects.

The buzz surrounding Kosmischer Pitch, which has been applied to Tierbeobachtungen as well, is that Jelinek’s recent output finds him delving into Krautrock and experimenting with Krautrock-based textures. Though some of the guitar shapes utilized as samples by Jelinek may be vaguely redolent of early-Seventies Krautrock (the hyper-driven guitar squall of Faust or the low-key, acoustical ragas of Popol Vuh), these tracks, on the whole, are far too minimalist in their approach to be considered as such. Jelinek’s modus operandi on Tierbeobachtungen is to allow these tracks to unfold slowly, evolving gradually as layer upon layer of samples -- ranging from clear, ringing guitar tones to screeching, histrionically overdriven guitar skronk -- are juxtaposed against each other. These loops, recorded in varying degrees of audio fidelity, elevate Jelinek’s pieces into crescendos of sound that combine the subtle intensity of Godspeed You Black Emperor! with the heaviness of early Mogwai at times. Jelinek, as always, has unleashed another highly recommended magnum opus of headphone music against which all other headphone music is measured.

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