Mats Gustafsson and Christof Kurzmann-Failing and Five Other Failings: Album Review

With niche genres such as drone music there’s an impossible to define line between abrasiveness that remains musical and abrasiveness that lacks depth.  Sax player Mats Gustafsson and electronic artist Christoff Kurzmannn certainly play with this space on their latest Trost Records release “Failing and 5 Other Failings.”  The entire project puts the listener on edge with noisy sax techniques and uncomfortable electronic sound drones at frequencies that vigorously attack the ears.  Overall, the result is a bit indigestible.  Depth and warmth are lacking by virtue of the emphasis on abrasiveness and many of the tracks fail to garner enough contrast to provide relief from the harsh moments.

The project is mostly comprised of electronic drone/saxophone pieces, with one spoken-word effort at the second track.  Admittedly, I mostly skipped the vocal track. I find Kurzmann’s voice to be off-putting, which could be chalked up to taste differences, but I think some of the issues with this track translate to my criticisms of the instrumental efforts.  As a whole, the album feels a bit thin, the electronic drones sit at a frequency that does not give off an effect of space, rather feeling tinny and metallic.  Also the saxophone playing spends a bit too much time with pointed high notes that lack warmth and depth.  Instead of saxophone on “Failing,” we get really light and awkward vocal delivery.  Like the other tracks, electronics stagnate at a strange pitch as with thin melodic ideas circling around each other without really going anywhere.

As far as the instrumental tracks run, the first begins decently, with a straightforward electronic-drone foundation, followed by carefully crafted saxophone melodies.  Eventually a rhythmic pulse comes into the equation, giving a sort of marching feel to the melodic ideas.  Unfortunately, the end of this track gives a glimpse of some of the more off-putting electronics to come on the project.  The electronics slowly escalate into higher ranges thinning out the sound aesthetic and softening a great deal of impact on the track.  “Failing II” continues the violent, high-frequency electronics with a good portion of the track featuring electronics just sitting in an unrelenting place.

“Failing IV” is more of a success.  The track begins with textural experimentation from each player; Gustafsson’s pops and clicks are matched by bubbling electronics from Kurzmann.  Unlike many of the tracks that precede it, there’s a solid foundation to it.  Kurzmann provides some stagnate electronic sounds to complement the fluttery sax tones in the first half of the track.  Then deep, breathy sax work provides a bottom to the circulating drones that build until the end.  The final climax of the track features a cool breathing technique that encompasses all of the other sounds for a final invigorating push.

Save some bright moments towards the end of the work, the album lacks a lot of development and contrast.  The saxophone work essentially sticks to quick bursts of phrase with audible pops and clicks from the keys.  This combined with rather abrasive electronics does not do the work any favors.  Also, the duo leaves very little space, in “Failing II,” for example, a handful of sounds essentially never cease. Working within a generally abrasive framework requires some sort of break or general song form.  All too often, the album emphasizes stagnation.

The playing on the work is decent, but the duo could benefit from settling in a slightly warmer aesthetic with more depth.  If the electronics focused on more low-frequency sounds and Gustafsson also provided more bassy tones alongside longstanding, full sounding melodic developments to contrast the textural sound he works with so well, the duo would provide a project with a bit more life.

-Donovan Burtan

5/10

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