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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Suspicion Breeds Confidence - The Fauna and Flora of the Vatican City [Gruenrekorder - 2010]

Unlike any single genre or musician that comes to mind, Suspicion Breeds Confidence's "The Fauna and Flora of the Vatican City" is an enigma of an album as easy to puzzle over as it is to put on while completing homework.  It's a great armchair chill out record, and it's a mood that sustains it, a mood so thick one could honestly refer to it as a 'sense of place'.  By now I've spent many hours in Tobias Schmitt's "Vatican City" - any and all of the 15 tracks will take you there.

Low fidelity tape loops of muffled, semi-rhythmic sounds comprise the idiosynchratic and rhythmically loose backbone of this record.  Gooey subsonic bass underscores dozens of tiny percussive collisions, but beats never congeal into the groovey precision of IDM or even the simplistic pulse of krautrock, despite this music undoubtedly sharing sounds and attitudes with both genres.  The rhythm is rather more akin to the sound of several pieces of refuse floating down a fast moving stream, bumping and nudging against each other at every bend.  Awash in delay, as listeners we bob downstream with the flotsam, gazing up from the surface at a world of modernity that appears less threatening due to the faded, home-made warmth of the music.

Schmitt's primary preoccupations are textural.  All manner of crackling, scraping, hissing, chiming, whirring, clanking, rustling, chittering, sparking, squelching... and I counted all of these in a single track alone! ("While Admiring the Quality of Other People's Lives They Probably Do Not Deserve").  The sounds are not so harsh as to force the listener's attention to them, and would cause no one pain, but it is in fact 'noise' that Schmitt is working with.  Analog to the core, Schmitt has effectively performed a manual form of granular synthesis through intense splicing and editing.  Each source track is so cleverly degraded and heavily cut up as to pointillistically mesh into a greater impressionistic tapestry of sonic snapshots, a blurry image which sustains a palette of hues throughout the record, though the details change from track to track.  The faded, stony hues of the fairly minimalist packaging are a perfect match for it.

Sublime, rounded melody at times appears to compliment the bass and brings us back to hip, cool, cleanly produced chillout: the house, ambient and dub easily identifiable in the roots of this record.  Rather than bringing us back to musical movements that long ago ran their course, Schmitt allows us to experience the sublime beauty of the aesthetic without the burden of the formulas that have homogenized the genre.  Tracks like "Her Delicacy Shivered At The Absent Summer" and "Willkommen Im Schachclub Plankton 2 (Kleiderordnung)" are most easily identifiable as referential to the dance music of the past, and function as entry points into the album.  The former draws you in with offbeat hints of a kick drum, and a liquified rhodes piano with a lazy swing like lunching at a diner on a hot day (one of many such tasty riffs from the keyboard).  "Willkommen" is the most like actual dub with the heaviest, deepest groove on the album.  It's still submerged under layers of reverb and sonic detritus, and sounds as if a party is being held in the sewers a block or so down, as we listen from ground level.

I found "The Fauna and Flora of the Vatican City" to be an intensely enjoyable and unique album that perfectly skirts the thin line between thematic consistency and diversity, not to mention the lines between a great many genres of electronic music.  The imperfect, unstructured nature of the rhythms will certainly put off some listeners, but it shouldn't come off as random to anyone.  Whether you need something to provide a mood-enhancing backdrop while you do work at the computer, or crave some new work of sonic architecture to analyze and listen to deeply, this record should satisfy

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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