You’d be forgiven for looking at the two artists responsible for this album and thinking ‘W…wait… What??’ Because if you are familiar with the individual output of Daniel Lanois and Aaron Funk a.k.a. Venetian Snares (and I guess as a visitor to A Closer Listen you probably are) then they don’t seem to be the most likely of collaborators. They both hail from Canada but this isn’t the most obviously Canadian album – it’s not in the tradition of k.d. lang’s Songs from the 49th Parallel, for example. But perhaps a closer comparison would be Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue duetting on “Where The Wild Roses Grow”, having found common ground because they are both Australian (OK, and they both knew Michael Hutchence).
However, it’s not just the connection to the homeland that combines Funk and Lanois; if we look closely we can see some shared ground. Aaron Funk is best known for a prolific run of albums, mostly on Planet Mu, that combined insanely programmed drums with a lively sense of humour. In the middle of that sequence, though, came the unexpected Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett which eased the drums back slightly and utilised strings and brass. It demonstrated Funk’s skill with textures as well as beats, and indicated an alternate, less frantic, approach which he has occasionally returned to since (My Downfall being one example).
Daniel Lanois has a CV that covers producing records for the elder statesmen of rock (Bob Dylan, Neil Young), and stadium bands (U2, The Killers) as well as his own shuffling, country-esque albums (such as Acadie and For the Beauty of Wynona) and the occasional instrumental album (Belladonna). But he’s also produced Jon Hassell and Harold Budd and collaborated on numerous albums with Brian Eno (not just as a co-producer): Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks is arguably the best example of the Eno / Lanois partnership. So he’s got pedigree when it comes to creating evocative ambient works.
It will therefore come as no surprise that the duo of a breakcore pioneer and an ambient legend will produce an album that is a solid 33 minutes of ambient breakcore. Although the music stemmed from working together live in the studio, it is pretty easy to determine the division of labour; there’s a gentle composition courtesy of Lanois sometimes on synth, but more often (such as on “HpShk5050 P127”) the cinematic sound of his pedal steel guitar. Meanwhile Snares brings in the beat, but as he did on Rossz Csillag, it is sympathetically programmed to suit the compositions provided by Lanois. If there is a scale of Aaron Funk’s style from breakcore through splattercore to ‘kitten-walking-across-the-drum-machine-core’ then this is definitely the calmer end; unlike some of his other releases Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois won’t have you ripping off your headphones in surprise and alarm as the drums just topple over themselves in a manner that is challenging to follow (OK, aside from “Mothors Pressroll P131”).
It’s an unexpected delight to hear Lanois’s ambient music recontextualised on this album, and it also gives a fresh dimension to Aaron Funk’s own work. At times Venetian Snares has been at risk of losing the spark of originality that powered him through multiple releases; it’s arguable that his more recent work has become a little bit samey. VSxDL counters that problem in confident style; it’s a collaboration that benefits both parties. More importantly, regardless of who made it and how – it’s a joyous, lively listen. (Jeremy Bye)