Archives of the North

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This is Polwechsel's fourth album of compositions (their fifth overall counting Wrapped Islands, the improv collaboration with Fennesz). Since 2001's Polwechsel 3, guitarist Burkhard Stangl has left and percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr have joined John Butcher, Werner Dafeldecker, and Michael Moser. Knowing these lineup changes, one would expect a different sound -- and of course it is different, surely more metallic with all those cymbals entering the picture -- but Archives of the North is immediately recognized and accepted as a genuine Polwechsel proposition. Here the listener still finds the same meticulously conceived compositions, the same quiet approach, and the same puzzling processes holding everything together. That said, these five pieces are also quite different from the material found on Polwechsel 3, which itself moved some distance away from Polwechsel 2: the second album was a droning affair while the third was harsher, with some pieces adopting a disconcerting cut-and-paste style. This time listeners are somewhere in between, and elsewhere, too. Each track offers a fascinating look at composition and audition. The mechanics of each piece will not be described here, as figuring them out accounts for a large part of the listening pleasure, but there is plenty in these 50 minutes to keep you occupied for a while. "Site and Setting" stands out as a mesmerizing chassé-croisé between textural drones and striking events. Considering that the Contest of Pleasures released a new album at around the same time Archives of the North came out, 2006 has proved to be a very good year for fans of John Butcher and the most demanding fringe of experimental music.

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