Christian Fennesz cast himself as a different sort of laptop artist with his first true breakout record, a brief single on which he whittled The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and The Beach Boys' "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" down to raspy flakes of sound. They were unrecognizable impressions from a scientific mind, but they were also unduly warm and musical, as guided by the natural world as a folkie picking riffs at sundown. Endless Summer, from 2001, followed in kind, charting a dense, mesmerizing patch where the quirks of musicians and technicians intersect. That hallmark album was rough and scratchy, but its abstraction lapped itself in a race toward process-intensive beauty that was hard to boil down to its computer roots.
The new Venice follows similar cues to more immersive ends. Recorded on location in Italy, the album stamps 12 sonic postcards from a city awash in romance and ruin. "Rivers Of Sand" starts off with a gorgeous ambient swath, its slow-flowing melody layered with rough textures that rub rather than rip. Fennesz follows precursors from the whole of ambient electronic music, but his dense and weightless structures owe as much to the cascading builds of shoegazer rock bands like My Bloody Valentine. His tracks play as rootless compositions, but they unfold like songs, wavering around riffs and impressions that tease and tug through the end. In "Circassian," churning guitar chords enter as a glut of noise before separating, like a frantic splash expanding into lazy waves. The water motif fits all of Fennesz's supersaturated moods, but his ostensible travelogue pays as much mind to the oil slicks that grease Venice's grand canals.
An atypical stretch of vocals, sung by David Sylvian and placed inordinately high in the mix, breaks the album's spell in "Transit." But Venice resumes its sculptured shapelessness in no time, cementing Fennesz's role as a master of ambient computer music that brings the outside in.