Published September 24, 2009
Conceived as a post-rock interpretation of punk’s rough and tumble DIY aesthetic, the In the Fishtank series, released by the Dutch distributor Konkurrent, continues to yield surprises some ten years after its debut installment. Based on a simple premise–convening stylistically different bands in the studio to improvise together for a 48 hour period and then releasing the results–the Fishtank (the name of the Amsterdam studio in question) has quietly produced some of the most exciting and inventive collaborations since Warp Records’ Artificial Intelligence series. Over its fifteen volumes, Konkurrent has recruited groups like Sonic Youth, Tortoise, and June of ’44 alongside international experimentalists The Ex, Aereogramme and Maarten Altena Ensemble, steadily building a reputation for attracting the most respected names in contemporary music. Of course, results have varied. While some installments have been uneven, others have proven to be wildly inventive documents of succinct musical conversation.
Fishtank 15, available this week, may well set the benchmark for the entire series. Featuring Austrian electronic musician Christian Fennesz and American balladeer Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, collaborators on the latter’s previous album Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain, the seven song LP succeeds in marrying two distinct palettes into a unique brocade of chimes, shimmers and strings. While Linkous’s vocals have the mincing effect of a bedsit poet, the album’s lustrous production belongs completely to Fennesz and his trademark laptop patches. Standout tracks include the aptly titled opener “Music Box of Snakes”, a Fenneszian classic rivaling his 2001 release Endless Summer, and “Goodnight Sweetheart,” a morose lullaby narrated by Linkous.
“Music Box of Snakes” by Christian Fennesz and Mark Linkous
Other highlights of the series include In the Fishtank 7 featuring Midwestern slowcore band Low and Australian instrumentalists the Dirty Three. Recorded in ’99 during the Crossing Border festival in Amsterdam, the album showcases Low’s soporific harmonies and the violin work of Three’s Warren Ellis. A true collaborative effort, the album also includes a ten minute cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” that stands as a minor classic. Another, featuring nu-metalists Motorpsycho and electro/big band ensemble Jaga Jazzist, combines the former’s thudding percussion and twisted guitar work with the latter’s intricate, Coltrane-meets-Aphex Twin fusion. With divagations into Morricone-style soundtrack orchestration, French cabaret, and Persian strings, the half-hour album is an ambitious collection of noisy improvisation and infectious pop.