, December 21st, 2011 11:24
Mozart. Classicism. Sausages. The Danube in the morning. Coffeehouses, philosophers and palaces. Tram bells and knee-deep snow. Provocative glances as dinner suits glide past wine-toting ball gowns (rapt in expensive conversation) at the state opera house bar. A long, lonely walk home through a freezing night, collar upturned, your hands burrowed deep into a grey longcoat…
As you probably can tell, I have never been to Vienna. As such, I've never had the opportunity to feel alone, or depressed, or even cold there. A few repetitions into Tin Man's Vienna Blue record though, and Austria's capital feels almost like an old home.
This has everything to do with atmosphere, something techno producer Johan Auvinen's new LP has in abundance. Sounding somewhere between an overexcited Morton Feldman and an underwhelmed Pantha du Prince, the music is replete with the shyly intellectual vocal contributions of a much less confident Jens Lekman. And just like Nicolaas Jaar's strangely similar Space is Only Noise essays on emptiness, so Vienna Blue thrives on suggestion. Tracks like 'Crow' and 'Ice Blue Eyes' are full of holes: you could park a Mahler symphony in the gaps between kick drums in the latter, while the former sounds like a radically void 'For Stephen Wolpe'.
And the things that are there are treated just as compellingly. Most beguiling are the weepy counterpoints between clarinet and string ensemble, whose naïve orchestration somehow serves only to better offset Auvinen's consummate production style. With clicks, thumps and such acoustic subtleties, Vienna Blue unfolds like a rapid sequence of silver-screen freeze-frames: each too brief to comprehend fully, but collectively long enough to spark whole worlds of fantastic imaginations.
And in this sense – and to this listener – then, 'Tender Is The Night' stands out as the record's masterpiece. Throughout the two-and-a-half minutes of stately harp ostinato and subtle reverb effects, Auvinen's rich mumble is so close you can almost feel his breath. After a series of sweet nothings – whispered to himself, it seems – the track ends with exquisite abruptness. A clarinet mourns, a cello moans, and Auvinen asks 'will you finish the story before the night is through? Will you?' Laced with resignation, Tin Man's hopefulness hangs in the air with a heavy, heartrending melancholy.
If 'Tender is the Night' is in some sense representative of the record as a whole, then it's for this acute sense of stories unfinished. A glance at the track listing shows you why. With only eight or nine tracks out of twenty-two that clock in at three minutes or more, Vienna Blue comes across as an elaborate patchwork of fragments. Each new song offers yet another beginning, but resolutions remain few and far between. And while the album's bookend tracks – 'Whimsical Chairs' and 'Manifest Destiny' respectively – imply a clear conceptual trajectory from the light-hearted to the severe, their musical content suggests otherwise. Indeed, Vienna Blue's point of arrival evokes its moment of departure completely, lending a poignant sense of wishful thinking to the record's flow. Tin Man is looking for closure: he can't even find it in his own work.
Perhaps it was unfair to begin this article as I did. Without doubt, imposing such romanticized, film-derived fantasies before even mentioning Tin Man's music is a cheap trick designed to draw in a readership and to implant an argument before said readership has even figured out what exactly it's reading about. And yet – really and honestly – it's not all in my imagination. In a record as beautifully framed and exquisitely paced as this one, complete with lines like "Vienna I love you, but you're killing me / It's such a shame not to find romance here", it's difficult to think of anything but the movies. (Naturally, it helps that Auvinen's press photographs depict a gentleman of enviable handsomeness PLUS an impeccable side parting).
But don't take my word for it: incredibly, the album is now available for free on Soundcloud. I recommend wholeheartedly that you download it while it's there. Vienna Blue won't just get you home (that icy night-walk, remember?), but it'll get you through the rest of the winter, too.