With all the excitement of watching an office temp download a Paris Hilton clip at his cubicle, that upside-down glow of the Apple logo illuminates most Powerbook performers as tedious enough to make Kraftwerk look like the Scorpions. That chin-scratching audiences could discern a G3-tar plucking ditties inside the dizzying katydid clicks of Austrian rock guitarist-turned-laptopper Christian Fennesz’s 2001 breakthrough album, Endless Summer, popped him out of the noise crowd, rendering him commercially viable as computer music’s first guitar god.
Rather than follow it up, Fennesz globe-trots with Jim O’Rourke and Pita, the Polwechsel quartet, Sparklehorse, or ex-Japan crooner David Sylvian, or else remixes the jiggy-sissy Junior Boys and the im-Material Girl herself. He also trots out those most rote of rock maneuvers, an odds-and-sods comp (Field Recordings 1997–2002) and a live album—from Japan, no less!—echoing the dinosaurs that once rocked the earth: Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, even the Scorps’ own Tokyo Tapes.
Shunning pyrotechnics and fiery leads, Fennesz instead cops the licks of other ’70s guitar heroes: Fripptronic components bob in a watery tub of dub as Florian Fricke’s acoustic balances precariously above. The cherry wood warps as erratic jolts of electricity course through his shriveled fingertips, drowning out half-formed melodies in washes of white noise. Pastoral musings distend as they get sucked down the drain, and though it doesn’t really rock like a hurricane, it churns like one. Hyped as the greatest laptop concert ever (though his Live in Detroit boot is more visceral), Live in Japan simply updates arena-rock formula: download and deliver hits, saving catchiest number code (“Shisheido”) for encore.
After album-length postcards of places such as Barcelonan pensiones, Australian tourist traps, and his backyard coordinates, Fennesz recorded the entirety of Venice in . . . you guessed it. Rested and ready, it’s his most complacent disc yet, less concerned with pushing envelopes than having something to say beyond “Wish you were here.” That voice in “Transit” is Sylvian in correspondence, tilting the album toward Scott Walker country. “Circasian” has all the majesty of San Marco Basilica drones with none of the swarming pigeons. Multiple dimensions of melody get compressed to oily surface tension. Notes are motorless, impermanent; they merely float and reflect the glimmer of the sinking city’s capillary action.
Fennesz plays Tonic May 27.