Â?We like to think of it as a soundtrack to an imaginary filmÂ?Â?Â Few phrases within the English Language are capable of evoking the same sense of creeping dread within me as that sentence when used to describe the coming of a new album.Â Those 13 malignant lexical items are in fact shorthand for Â?we didnÂ?t really have many ideas for this record so thought weÂ?d cobble some stuff together, pretend itÂ?s structured around a film thatÂ?s so crap no-oneÂ?s made it then drown the little bugger in strings to make it suitably epicÂ?.Â Well guess what; itÂ?s likely to be shit and you can dress it up all you want but a concept album is still a concept album regardless of how many references you make to Kieslowski or Visconti in your interviews.
Nevertheless, the idea of capturing what is going on elsewhere within the arts and representing it in music is by no means new with the most notable precedent the attempts of composers such as Schubert, Liszt and Berlioz to draw inspiration from the 19th Century Romantic movement within literature.Â It is therefore unsurprising that contemporary recording artists, on observing the scale of cinema, seek to distil some of its magic into their recordings.Â Yet whilst the notion was sound the actual execution through imagined films often wasnÂ?t with the whole enterprise repeatedly exposed as self-indulgent, lacking in substance or indeed style.Â You might, therefore, conclude that weÂ?re up a creative cul-de-sac with nowhere to go, and, whilst based on what IÂ?ve just said youÂ?d think youÂ?re on solid ground, the truth is thereÂ?s a little alleyway over there, hidden out of sight.Â Follow me!
Whereas soundtracks to films in the traditional sense (both real and imagined) always seem to lack that crucial factor when listened to in isolation, such restrictive caveats tend not to apply when itÂ?s in conjunction with the work of visual artists.Â Â The power of short films and music is plain to see from MTV through to gallery installations and whilst watching the latest offering from Darius may have you shooting the TV in the style of The King, there is no denying that where the bloated overblown attempt to capture musical reflections of motion pictures which exist on their own terms has predominantly failed (although recent release 2046 is a notable exception), short films and music seem a healthy pairing.Â This brings us lurching, quite long windily, to Baden-Baden (Monika Enterprises) the debut solo release of FSK bassist Michaela Melian which is comprised of accompany pieces to her work as a visual artist.Â Having not seen the related visuals I can only go on the music as an autonomous entity, but where the traditional film soundtrack would have little impact shorn of its big screen associations (Back to the Future an obvious exceptionÂ?) Baden-Baden easily holds its own.Â Predominantly instrumental, Michaela Melian employs a select assortment of elements to convey a mood which is undoubtedly downbeat but laced throughout with a sense of innocent optimism which prevents proceeding turning moribund.Â
Album opener Â?BrautliedÂ? will already be familiar to some from its inclusion on the Wire magazines recent Tapper 12 compilation and sees Melian conjuring an ethereal five minutes through a guttural, throbbing tick of a beat overlaid by xylophones and tinkling music boxes.Â Much more than the sum of its parts, Â?BrautliedÂ? brings to mind the fractured innocence of Susumu Yokota or the early work of Faultline and thoroughly immerses the listener in its own constructed reality.Â That this reality could easily include the Moomins living at the bottom of the garden is something you need to bear in mind before donning the headphones.Â A more frenetic, yet no less unsettling, pace is observable on Â?VerkehrÂ? where an agitated vioncello repeats endlessly whilst crystalline electro beats and bursts of disparate percussion build slowly until the song is transformed into a writhing whole which seems perfectly organic.Â However, undoubtedly the most accessible tack on the album is Â?Igaz Guenther HouseÂ? with Melian showing a keen understanding of Black Dog style beats as cheap synths and pianos build like a Blade Runner homage before everything drops out only to return with a growling electro bass line and a box of Rephlex Space Invader beeps.Â Clocking in at over nine minutes itÂ?s a perfectly measured example of how a song can take almost ten minutes of your day without it feeling like you wasted a second.
Elsewhere on the album Melian displays her bass wielding aptitude and capacity for multi-instrumentalism with Â?PanoramaÂ? coming across like a Burnt Friedman lock in with Four Tet whilst the title track is a slow burning electronica platter that could happily sit amongst Skam records catalogue with no-morebatting an eye-lid.Â The only song to feature vocals is the albums closer, Â?A Song for EuropeÂ?, which sees Melian lending her bluntly considered voice to a harp, string and choral cover of the Roxy Music track.Â ItÂ?s common knowledge that MelianÂ?s original group FSK were John PeelÂ?s second favourite band of all time and it seems completely fitting that the solo album from one of its members should close with a Bavarian bassistÂ?s cover of a Roxy Music standard.Â ItÂ?s the kind of thing Peel thrived on and IÂ?m sure he would certainly approve whilst playing it all at the wrong speed.
Album Review: Michaela Melian
by Adam Park