Those who haven’t closely followed Faust’s output may be forgiven for thinking that the avant garde collective have few roads left to explore. Having first formed over 45 years ago, they’re a band as wildly inventive as they are prolific, having put out a bewildering array of releases since they reformed in the ‘90s.
Those who are more familiar with the band’s work will doubtless know better than to question the validity of their more recent output, however. Whilst not all of their releases from the past decade or so have been great, they have always been inventive. The question, therefore, is not how experimental the band’s latest long player – ‘Fresh Air’ – is but, rather, how successful it is in those experiments.
It’s a pleasure to report that the answer is “very”. Indeed, ‘Fresh Air’ might be the band’s strongest effort in a decade or more. It’s a remarkably vital set of songs that sees the Experimental Rock legends in fine fettle – continuing to craft music that fits in the overarching Faust narrative while still covering new ground.
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As with so many of Faust’s records ‘Fresh Air’ centres round long-form pieces, in this case the 18 minute title track and the 11 minute ‘Fish’. Though neither track is unusually long by the group’s standards, the title track in particular certainly boasts a hefty runtime compared with most. Although such long-form pieces can at times be something of a challenge to get through in their entirety, no such problem is posed with ‘Fresh Air’.
Engaging and effortlessly compelling, the album’s title track starts out as a sparse drone piece – a spoken word monologue intoned over blistering harmonics and a desolate ambience. It is once founding member Werner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier’s urgent, tribal drum part kicks in that the song really takes off, building to a breathless, crescendoing climax, bursting to the seams with icy electronics and menacingly gnarled guitar.
Album closer ‘Fish’, on the otherhand, acts as the album’s metaphorical bookend alongside the undulating title track. Whereas ‘Fresh Air’ trades in a furious and defiant energy, ‘Fish’ takes the same deeply rhythmic basis but instead does something all together different with it. Despite lyrics concerned partially with the unethical way we treat our oceans, musically it’s a song of resolute determinance, rather than beligerance; it’s a piece that builds in intensity, certainly, but the tempo and atmosphere are more relaxed and trancy than the relentless title track.
Both structurally and sonically, the two songs mark a very definite beginning and end for ‘Fresh Air’, lending the album a keen sense of finality once the last notes fade. It’s a well concieved record – self contained but one that still fits within the overall Faust saga. If the first and last tracks set a precedent, then it’s one that the 25 minutes or so of music in between has no struggle to match. The repetitive, instantaneous groove of ‘Chlorophyl’ lays the groundwork for a surreal stream of consciousness monologue halfway between The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Gift’ and the incessant rhythm of fellow Kosmische legends Can.
At 8 minutes, ‘Chlorophyl’ is still a somewhat lengthy track, but ‘Fresh Air’ does also have some somewhat pithier delights to offer. The 3 minute ‘Birds Of Texas’ is an atmospheric joy; swirling, moody guitar and unpredictably thudding drums creating a space all of their own, whilst the palm muted chords of ‘La Poulie’ offer a no less unique and compelling sonic precedent.
‘Fresh Air’ manages to offer everything you’d expect from a Faust album without ever becoming predictable. It is uniquely experimental, compellingly bizarre and instrumentally vivid. By turns, it is playful – see the unabashedly silly noises of the 20 second ‘Partitur’ for evidence of that – and darkly serious, as on ‘Fish’. Faust are one of few groups where getting what you’d expect means that you’re hearing an album quite unlike any other individual moment in the band’s discography. As a result, long terms fans will feel instantly at home here but without getting a sense of deja vu. ‘Fresh Air’ is a strong, rewarding effort from Faust and one that comes heartily recommended to those with an ear for fresh, searching music.