Jan St. Werner has been recording for two decades as parts of such acts as Mouse On Mars and Microstoria. To put this in perspective, his videos were featured on the MTV show AMP, back when MTV was cool, showed music videos, and loved electronic music. Those days are long gone, but Jan St. Werner has kept plugging away. If anything, he’s become more accomplished over time.
Blaze Colour Burn is not what Mouse On Mars fans will expect. It doesn’t sound at all like last year’s WOW, although fans may say wow in reaction. This isn’t an album of beats, nor is it suitable for dance floors or chill-out rooms. Instead, it’s an album of experimental composition in which editing plays a huge role. Take for example the two-part “Spiazzacorale”, which fills 18 of the album’s 46 minutes. One might think, “that’s a very long track; surely it might have been edited?” But it was edited; the original piece was 8 hours long. The original piece is the sort of long-form work that might one day be released on USB stick and cherished by collectors, although one would be hard-pressed to imagine repeated listens. The piece was performed in a public piazza and incorporates all manner of local sounds, including church bells, a vibraphonist and most amusingly, a flute orchestra that sounds like a group of kids playing broken kazoos. “Spiazzacorale B” allows a saxophone to play in the foreground while the background shifts from tuning orchestra to excited conversation and flute. Birds begin to sing, both inside the speakers and outside my window. One is sitting on my air conditioner – this has happened twice now, and only to Jan St. Werner – whatever these birds are singing, it’s working. Unfortunately, if they want to get together, they will have to commute. The most exciting part of the piece arrives at 2:52 of “Spiazzacorale A” as the band first erupts into full bloom, followed by the album’s clearest tolling of church bells.
Three of the other tracks are mutations of film scores, in which the artist toys with expectations of dynamics and mood. The repeated motifs of traditional visual and aural narrative are discarded in favor of a non-linear approach. The best of these (and the album’s longest single track) is “Cloud Diachroma”, which would have served as a much better score for Cloud Atlas than the predictable amalgamation composed by Tykwer and company. Stereo-spanning drones launch the piece into a miasma of feedback, grind and pulse. This score, originally scored for Rosa Barba, elevates the senses through pauses, abrasive edges and odd juxtapositions. Only in its final minutes does the piece develop something approximating a rhythm, a light connection back to the artist’s previous work. By resisting the tug of popular appeal, St. Werner creates his most intriguing set in years, a fine launch for Thrill Jockey’s new Fiepblatter series of avant-garde explorations. (Richard Allen)