Pole - Fading Music Album Reviews

Pole - Fading Music Album Reviews
Inspired by his mother’s Alzheimer’s, the German ambient-dub musician crafts a masterfully melancholy lament that takes his signature crackle and pop into unsettling new terrain.

In his shattering memoir Stammered Songbook: A Mother’s Book of Hours, Erwin Mortier charts his family’s struggles to care for his mother (and each other, and themselves) as Alzheimer’s takes her from them. “I can no longer hear the music of her soul,” he writes, “that whole vibrating fabric of symbols with which she wove herself into the world—or conversely, the world into her.”
Over the last few years, a number of electronic musicians have tried to hear that music—and begun making it themselves. In 2016, Hannah Peel made a glittering electro-pop album, Awake but Always Dreaming, as a way to cope with her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. That same year, Leyland James Kirby announced that his long-running ambient project the Caretaker would itself contract (metaphorical) dementia, resulting in a series of harrowing invocations of neurological decline that terminated in the epic decay of 2019’s Everywhere at the End of Time; enduring its six-plus hours has recently become a TikTok fad.

According to the World Health Organization, some 10 million people in Europe have dementia. Tragically, one of them was Stefan Betke’s mother. Betke, who as Pole redefined ambient dub for a generation over the course of three classic albums (recently reissued by Mute in an essential box), has followed up 2015’s crisp Wald with an album inspired by his mother’s memory loss, and his loss of her. It is masterfully melancholy, full of extended autumnal sighs like “Erinnerung” (the German word for memory) in which bright melodies stay on the tip of the tongue, never quite congealing into patterns.

Fading is also unsettling, and anxious. “Drifting” welcomes listeners with a beatific cloudbank that shadows a landscape of rustles and scrapes; it burns off with pained breath. “Tangente” swings without swagger, the skittering beat as indebted to the click of knitting needles as to boom-bap. You might expect a track named for the glossy, gothy carrion crow would make the heart flutter, and “Nebelkrähe” does, but it’s more arrhythmia than heartbreak, a murder of blasted-out hiss and brittle kicks. Hovering doom.

“Töpel” has a lighter touch, replicating the awkward shuffle of the sea birds it takes its name from—but then crashes set in, a reminder that, in German, the word is also slang for a fool. Dementia has a way of tricking everyone in its orbit: It makes the familiar foreign, the habitual impossible, until all must be forgiven for bumbling around as they just do their best. In the dream landscape of “Traum,” Betke builds a tottering structure, with shrill flares in tangles above gurgling bass; to me, it sounds like self-recrimination, but we’ve all got our baggage.

There are moments of reprieve: “Röschen” is a bit fiddly, but eventually blooms as spatters of high-end fall upon deep furrows of funk. And closer “Fading” is positively baptismal, with pads like viaducts funneling Betke’s warm dub to wash away the sorrow.

Throughout, Betke employs his own version of Mortier’s “vibrating fabric of symbols.” The signature pops of static still crackle; his bass remains vertiginous. Over 20 years spent cutting discs at his scape mastering studio, he’s honed a tonal expertise that allows him to create uncanny dimensions, dropping delays in stereo fields that feel impossibly wide. His foreground sometimes seems to slide under your skin, and the horizon can appear infinite. Reticence does sometimes get the best of him: Fading feints from Hannah Peel’s empathy and refuses to devastate (or stunt) like the Caretaker. Yet it’s full of Betke’s own version of love. If older Pole was a weighted blanket, these are throws to toss and turn under, offering temporary comfort but no escape.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Pole - Fading Music Album Reviews Pole - Fading Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, November 12, 2020 Rating: 5

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