Black Noise

Pantha du Prince

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Black Noise Review

by K. Ross Hoffman

Since his second full-length as Pantha du Prince, 2007's truly sublime, duly acclaimed This Bliss, Henrik Weber has gradually expanded his profile beyond the traditional confines of the minimal electronic realm, turning in remixes for the likes of Animal Collective, Bloc Party, and the Long Blondes and, in 2009, making the surprising shift from Hamburg's Dial Records to venerable indie rock label Rough Trade, hardly an imprint known for its electronica output. Black Noise, his first album for Rough Trade, bolsters those indie credentials further with a couple of guest spots: !!!'s Tyler Pope plays bass on one cut, and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear, Animal Collective) sings on another. "Why stick to the things that I've already tried?," Lennox muses in his drippy, hazily harmonized fashion on the typically lovely "Stick to My Side" -- and indeed, why shouldn't we expect Weber to branch out a bit? As it happens, though, Lenox's vocals are about the extent of the overt musical innovation on offer here. (For what its worth, Pope's bass on "The Splendour" fails to leave any impression, although the track manages to acquit itself of its rather aggrandizing title quite nicely.) Partisans of the Pantha of old needn't be too concerned (and, by the same token, those intrigued by the possibilities of a more indie-infused Pantha record may be disappointed) because Black Noise does overwhelmingly stick to the tried and true. Which is hardly a cause for complaint. Weber is truly a master of mood and texture, one of few techno/minimal/microhouse producers working with an unmistakable signature sound, and all of his hallmarks are present and accounted for: the shimmering chimes and bells, muffled clicks, woozily atmospheric synth, and deep, dubby bass, set against sturdy but subdued pulsing house grooves, all of which make his music, almost uncannily, equally well-suited to dancefloors and dreamscapes. He has a few slight sonic twists up his sleeve -- "Abglanz" introduces a figure played on what sounds like a steel drum, and "Behind the Stars" brings on the grinding electro keyboards and dark, distorted vocals, recalling the "micro-goth" tag sometimes applied to his earlier work, while the brief, beatless "Im Bann" is all languid guitar strums, thick hypnotic haze, and a muffled crunching sound like footsteps in the snow -- but nothing here would have sounded out of place on This Bliss, and a few tracks, like "Bohemian Forest," whose melodic twinklings feel a bit like Pantha-by-numbers here, could well have been standouts on that record. With its generally well-conceived but vaguely non-committal-feeling gestures toward expanding Pantha du Prince's musical range, Black Noise can't help but feel ever so slightly like a letdown after the consistently mesmerizing rapture of its predecessor. But make no mistake: Weber is still making some of the most enchanting electronica out there, and if this album brings him the increased exposure for which he seems well-poised, there are few producers more deserving.

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