As Hauschka, Volker Bertelmann's skill and creativity in bringing the prepared piano into the 21st century are well-known, but Abandoned City is his first album to feature the instrument this prominently since 2005's aptly named The Prepared Piano. It's also one of his most solitary efforts in some time; aside from a few assists by contrabassist Roland Nebe and clarinetist Simone Weber, virtually every sound was made by Bertelmann. Abandoned City isn't so much a return to form as it is a reflection of Hauschka's explorations since The Prepared Piano: elements of Ferndorf and Silfra's classical leanings, Salon des Amateurs' brilliant reworking of dance music, and Foreign Landscapes' globetrotting concept can all be heard. As its name suggests, Abandoned City's tracks draw inspiration from deserted metropolises, but Bertelmann doesn't rely on drones or space to describe these ghost towns. Even the most somber tracks, such as the bittersweet wondering of "Who Lived Here?" or the decaying grandeur of "Craco," teem with musical life. Bertelmann's piano populates Abandoned City with sounds akin to the harp and koto on "Sanzhi Pod City" and even pizzicato violin on "Agdam." Hauschka couples this ingenuity with an urgency that makes the album unique among his work. Whether it came from his need to work quickly when he wasn't needed by his newborn son or from the mixture of "hope and sadness" he experiences when writing music, an unsettling melancholy fills these pieces. Nowhere is this clearer than on Abandoned City's opening trio of songs: "Elizabeth Bay," a portrait of a Namibian mining town that Bertelmann describes as a "reinvention" of Wagner's Flying Dutchman, is a gorgeous ruin that encompasses dubby bass and fragmented techno rhythms in its sweep; the equally beautiful and nightmarish "Pripyat," inspired by an abandoned city near Chernobyl, balances flurries of insistent melodies and percussion and screeching noise; and "Thames Town" feels like a sadder-but-wiser cousin to Salon des Amateurs with its surprisingly funky rhythm and brooding piano melody. These tracks are so striking that the album feels a bit top-loaded, but Abandoned City is still another fine example of Hauschka's combination of inspired musicianship and almost palpable emotion.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares