First off, I've decided to take a stab at the recent self-released album by Herzog 'Young Lungs Against The Sea'. The reason being that there's such a lot to talk about, with the wealth of thoughts that the album title encourages and onto the superb music itself; I just had to post something about it.
Herzog will need little introuduction, particularly to the netlabel world. Releases on the mighty 12rec, Berlin's Resting Bell, the now defunct Serein netlabel and of course, the recent EP 'Small Loves' here on Audio Gourmet. It's hard to believe that after such a solid few years of activity, this is the first physical release from Herzog. Rather than leaving it up to a label to organise all the hard-work of designing and printing the CD, Bill Bawden, the man behind the project has taken it upon himself to do this. It is released as a digital download through his Bandcamp account and there is an option to buy a handmade CD; copies of which are limited to just 100. Both are modestly priced too...
Onto the record itself, in the press-release there isn't a clearly written out concept as such. I do tend to gravitate more towards material where there is a clear and full written concept to accompany an album. However, once I'd taken advantage of the free instant digital download that accompanied my CD purchase and began to listen I was struck by a concept that was evoked purely through the album title and the sounds that comprise it.
On paper, Bill's chosen formula of marrying piano with glitchy electronic effects and treatment is less than pioneering. It is often a pleasant result when these are paired but it does seem to be a pretty saturated sound these days and can often sound unoriginal.
Having said this, Bill doesn't simply rely on the obvious beaty that impeccable piano playing gives off, resting it on a light bed of static. He decides instead to treat his chosen instrument into complete obscurity, coaxing it into subtle electronic-sounding passages that mark a stark fragility against such a wall of noise. It is this chosen formula that really encapsulates the album title and bring this record to life.
To me, the whole record is presented almost as a battle between the piano/melody (young lungs) and the host of electronic sounds, static, noise and rustles (the sea). The fragile young lungs are obviously no match for the sea but they naievely set about trying to come out on top anyway. Through more gentle and calmer moments, it almost seems as if they have done just that - only to be swept away by the prevailing waves of the sea.
It's such a marvellous listening spectacle and is riddled with metaphors that allow this content to be applied to many situations. Perhaps it could simply portray the innocence of a child, crossing paths with the ugliness of the world for the first time? Maybe it refers to an artist fighting for a voice in a world of commercial saturation? Perhaps it teaches a respect for nature, in that we are powerless to fight it?
It is all in all a minimal record, favouring the actual tone of the piano when it has been treated rather than an obvious melody. Yet, given the endless listener application that can be explored and the food for thought it provides, this could very well be the finest piece of work that we have heard from Herzog.