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Wednesday April 23, 2014

Album Review

On Twitter, you can find dozens of accounts, some with hundreds of thousands of followers apiece, dedicated to abandoned places and modern-day ruins. The Derelict Places forum unites individuals who share a passion for exploring and documenting the tumbledown and weed-grown. Hardly a month goes by, it seems, without a new article or photo essay dedicated to Detroit's spectacular collapse. And let's not forget <em>True Detective</em>, which takes not only its setting but also multiple crucial plot points from the hurricane-ravaged wastelands of rural Louisiana. Ruin porn is hot these days. Now, Germany's Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) offers his own contribution to the latter-day "Ozymandias" canon with <em>Abandoned City</em>. The album's theme couldn't be more different from that of its predecessor, 2011's <em>Salon des Amateurs</em>, a neoclassical tribute to dance music in which knotty prepared-piano phrases played the roles normally reserved for synthesizers and drum machines. The mood is different, too: In place of the previous album's dense tone clusters and polyrhythmic counterpoints, lyrical top-line melodies tend to predominate here, with an overall effect that's less Chain Reaction than Frederic Chopin. With the exception of "Who Lived Here?" every song is named for a different ghost town, from Pripyat, site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to Craco, a crumbling hillside village in southern Italy. There's also Agdam, an Azerbaijanian city that was depopulated during 1993's Nagorno-Karabakh War, and Sanzhi Pod City, a kitschy architectural experiment in Taiwan. The distance between those examples suggests that Bertelmann is less interested in any specific critique of modernity than in a generalized melancholia; that's certainly reinforced by "Agdam," whose stately melody is reminiscent of Yann Tiersen's <em>Amélie</em> theme. But even as a largely sentimentalist project, he does justice to his subjects, using natural reverb and subtle electronic effects to suggest the dusky corrosion of a decades-old cassette tape. And behind his bold melodies, an all-pervasive rumble — nervous fingers drumming rapidly on the keys, nuts and bolts rattling against piano strings — hangs like a velvet curtain, moth-eaten and threadbare.

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