The musician in me is thinking ‘Why the hell didn’t I think of that??!!’, the music reviewer is dying to find something to criticize, while the human just sits hoping those two would shut up and bask in the brilliance of Thomas Bückner’s latest masterpiece, II.
Very few albums had left as lasting an effect on the ambient music scene as Bersarin Quartett’s self titled effort; it came out of nowhere and accomplished the extremely daunting task of getting almost universal acclaim, the kind of album that only comes around once or twice in a decade. Personally speaking, the moment in the opening “Oktober” that the percussion kicked in has remained imprinted in my memory ever since. Running an errand and stuck in the most extreme of Cairo’s notorious traffic jams, the beat kicked in, I parked – anything else can wait, no errands are that urgent – and let the album come to conclusion, no regrets whatsoever. It takes a very profound piece of work to derail a person’s entire plans, to interrupt what in real life is perceived as more important and Bückner seemed to be able to produce such profoundness at will.
So how does the highly anticipated follow up fare? Well, if that first paragraph didn’t make it clear enough, it is every bit as good as its predecessor and maybe even a tiny bit more. In terms of the elements used to make up the album, II is predominantly a classically influenced ambient album where strings, piano and double bass provide the larger percentage of the sounds on record. Ever so subtle and with attention to detail that makes the majority of what one listens to seem as if done hastily, each piece on the album breathes with a life of its own, an entity that deserves its place on record yet without ever sounding off when compared to its companions. It’s a work that gels together from start to finish and avoids the drawbacks of having a stronger mid section than its finale, or finishing well after a strong start, it’s all good and each track on the album merits its spot.
But let us not forget about the electronics, the all important beats and synths, the digital counterpart to the mostly analogue Bersarin Quartett persona. The greatest evidence of their importance comes in as early as the second track “Zum Greifen Nah” which peaks in a flurry of arpeggiated synthesizers and perfectly times stabs that send pulses rushing and ensures that the audience will remain spell bound for the remainder of the album. It drives one to wonder on how this mix can work out so brilliantly fully knowing that myriad artists have done this classical/electronica blend over and over again yet it sounds extremely fresh and just ‘right’ when it comes to BQ’s music. Maybe it’s the diversity ranging between glitch in tracks like “Alles ist ein Wunder” and “Hier und Jetzt” and the more impressionistic jazzy drumming on closer “Nichts Ist Wie Vorher” rather than focusing on one style that sets it apart, the impression that each track is given exactly what it needs and making this collection of influences complement each other so well.
In terms of mood, II avoids extremes; it straddles the line between joy and misery and allows for the listener to extrapolate the hints given to whatever ends he or she desires, it never imposes itself too much and allows for thought which earns it a somewhat timeless quality and avoids it being referred to as mood music or any other limiting categorization. Sure there are hints of happiness and of equal sadness but that’s not the main point focus, the main focus is contemplation, searching inside one’s self to unveil previously unlearned truths, destroy false prejudices and embrace the human inside each of us. It might sound clichéd or an over exaggeration, better yet, a dream solution to all the problems of our ideologically torn world: put all world and sect leaders in a room, play this album over and over again and peace will be at hand. When an album is so good that it spawns these thoughts in one’s head, you just know you’re in the presence of something extraordinary, and II really is just that; extraordinary! (Mohammed Ashraf)