Friday, January 12, 2018

2henning - Puzzled Bird (PROLOG MUSIC February 22, 2018)

Imagine a Rubik’s Cube displaying a dancing, ever-morphing array of cloud formations; with all the pieces of the cube in perpetual, percussive motion. Although, the images on display are truly incidental and ephemeral by design, they seem to reassert a deeper, formal logic – regardless of their individual combinations. Plus, they leave a lot of space for the theatre of imagination; they’re also stunning and the experience is a lot of fun. In a cubic nutshell, this is what it’s like to hear “Puzzled Bird”, the sophomore studio album from Swiss, nomadic Avant-Pop duo 2henning, for the very first time.

The record is puzzling. In the best way possible. On the one hand it feels accessible and familiar, but with each successive play it discloses a deeper, more perplexing maze of idiosyncrasies – all the while its strong melodic core sinks into your bones like solid steel. Once you get past Valeria Zangger’s visceral, groove-driven drumming and Rahel Kraft’s soothing and extremely affecting vocals, and peel away the vicious, biting synths, a universe of minuscule sound objects starts to appear in the outer orbits of the stereo spectrum. Part noise, part percussion and part extrapolated sound design – there are bits here which were played on a kalimba, a sankyo, a cow’s horn, flutes, some broken toys, music boxes and even a singing, pink balloon with “Who is Jesus?” printed on it.

The lyrics are equally as imaginative as the music, often rigged with trap doors and hidden fire escape routes that take you into far-out spaces like, say a Harvard type library, which just happens to be set in the middle of a wild theme park. And that’s the point, these ladies love to walk a tight rope between ruthless entertainment and intellectual acrobatics. Despite the consistent, high emotional voltage present throughout the album, intent listeners will also spot references to writer Emily Dickinson (“Nachtkerze”), poet Bertolt Brecht (“Radio”) and Göri Klainguti (“Osoph”).

This duo definitely mastered a unique ability to surprise the listener, to take logical, yet unexpected turns compositionally. This, as well as their unrelenting commitment to working with original, non-preset sound objects, are definitive qualities of the project. And there is nothing contrived about any of this, either. Every single one of the songs is a product of a free-form improv session or a live show. Each, is also a natural outcome of an intense dialogue between two highly opinionated, versatile multi-instrumentalists – who just happen to love to be surprised, challenged musically and have a lot of fun together exploring the "deep-end."

“Puzzled Bird” was written over a period of 3 years, while the recording process is estimated to have taken roughly 10 months. Like the puzzled referred to in the title, the final version of the album was put together from recordings that took place at the Soundfarm studio, a remote chapel, a tight, but very cozy cupboard in a Tokyo apartment, a friend’s flat and, of course, at the rehearsal space. Additional production was handled by friend, producer and sound engineer, Patrik Zosso (not to be confused with Wes Anderson’s Captain Zissou). The core compositions feature an analog drum set rigged with triggers and extended with electronic pads (to set off samples) and a whole array of hardware synths.