Marcel Fengler, Fokus

[Ostgut Ton]

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how extensive Berghain’s list of residents really is. Talented as they are, names like Norman Nodge, Function, and DVS1 can sometimes feel perpetually overshadowed by the giants Dettmann and Klock. People don’t even bother with the iconic duo’s first names these days. In contrast, the main thing they seem to know about Marcel Fengler is that he’s some kind of dark horse. Sure, the Berliner has done quite a few singles — including the popular Thwack — and mixed Berghain 05 near the end of 2011. Still, a widespread feeling remains that Fengler’s true colors are yet to be revealed. But not for much longer. Fokus, his debut album, is as deep an insight into his world as anything ever will be.

And what a world it is. While Dettmann is best known for his stomping, monochromatic approach — or “the Berghain sound” as so many people want to call it — Fengler takes a wrecking ball to the club’s oppressive concrete shell, knocking gaping holes and letting glorious shafts of light cut through the gloom. The result is an LP of intensely tangible melody, with just two truly dark and forceful club cuts. This latter style, Fengler sounds as if he could make in his sleep. Case in point, “The Stampede,” a major tension release after the drawn-out teasing of the album’s first two tracks. Chafing at the edges of elephantine kicks, its keening, unsettling synths prove genuinely intoxicating. Later on, when he reprises this heavyset style for “Sky Pushing” and subs in glassy bells, it’s obvious “The Stampede”‘s deliberate-sounding arrangement was no fluke.

Overwhelmingly, however, it’s the more melodic tracks which fully reveal the depths of Fengler’s talents as a producer. At times, they also hint that he listened to a lot of trance in the 90s. With its ding-donging acid bass line and rippling synths, for instance, “Jaz” sounds like the sort of thing the Platipus label’s core artists might make, were they still around today. It also features some of the most achingly beautiful tones since Rivet’s “Sleepwalker.” In “Dejavu,” Fengler turns his hand to a rolling cadence; melodies and wordless vocals arpeggiated, and percussion scarpering alongside. Once again, the influence of trance seems vaguely evident, but the intricacy of the arrangement and the richness of the individual sounds is far beyond anything he may or may not have been inspired by.

Fokus is not just an album of simple contrast between light and dark, however. Its strength lies in Fengler’s unique palette and how frequently he changes it up to achieve shaded nuance. Bookending the LP, for example, are “Mayria” and “Liquid Torso,” two tracks built around resonant symphonic strings. The former spreads them atop granulated, industrial drums and thrumming bass for gripping tension. The latter sees strings decorated with tiny glistening tones, like fresh dew on a spider web. Tracks like “Distant Episode” and “High Falls,” meanwhile, have an abstract feel, with beats almost absent and oddball synths on show. On paper, it all sounds a bit incongruous. Pounding techno, neo-trance, symphonic strings, experimentalism and more, all thrown together on the one album? It couldn’t work, surely. Well, it does, and it makes a bold statement about Fengler’s skill as a producer and curator. This is an album where context is king — where the tracklist craves to be heard from start-to-finish, without skipping ahead. But perhaps most importantly, it affirms Marcel Fengler’s unique sound, and seems certain to channel the torrents of the respect and attention he so readily deserves. Perhaps people will even stop using his first name.

rubin  on July 2, 2013 at 2:51 PM

I haven’t been using his first name for about 2 years 😉 the guy is a genius. And a total legend as well.

Mitchell  on July 30, 2013 at 8:31 AM

Great album and great review. I think this passage sums it up perfectly.

“Pounding techno, neo-trance, symphonic strings, experimentalism and more, all thrown together on the one album? It couldn’t work, surely. Well, it does, and it makes a bold statement about Fengler’s skill as a producer and curator”.


Little White Earbuds July Charts 2013 | Little White Earbuds  on August 2, 2013 at 12:03 AM

[…] [a Harmless Deed] 10. Ghosts On Tape, “No Guestlist” [Icee Hot]Nick Connellan 01. Marcel Fengler, “Jaz” [Ostgut Ton] 02. John Roberts, “Shoes” [Dial] 03. Holy Garage, “Diver Down” […]

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