Review: Kristof Hahn – Solo Etudes I

R-8763381-1479410161-7786.jpegWe begin with the flickering, fire-like erraticism of the first track. Despite bearing the title of “Snow”, I’m drawn to imagine the very opposite: an intense heat that billows and dwindles across the stereo frame, suddenly erupting from left to right as if devouring an oil slick, promptly receding through oxygen exhaustion. To what extent are these fizzing, crackling chords – presumably electronics, but ultimately too distorted to accurately identify – under Hahn’s control? To what extent does this piece document his attempts to sustain these resonances, guiding them across the stereo frame toward fabric and other forms of fuel, while keeping the potential for absolute chaos on a tight leash?

While the music hereby embarks on a dramatic stylistic shift, the central process is often the same: a constant redressing of available slack, permitting each creation the freedom to spiral into improvisation so as long they don’t break free entirely. Pieces like “King Of Kraut” erect rigid rails of rhythm in the form of a clattering 4/4 (courtesy of Swans compatriots Phil Puleo and Chris Pravdica), while guitars whirl on the brink of feedback and become tangled in eachothers trills. Even “Le Fake”, whose breezy Americana carries the twang of a Brian Jonestown Massacre instrumental, threatens to tumble off its three-chord bed, buoyed by the ungated hiss of guitar noise and the seethe of a hot amplifier signal. Into every inch of his music, Hahn embeds the markers of imminent collapse.

There’s one exception. While the second part of the album’s “Waterflower” trilogy culminates in drums and guitars forcing their way up through the beds of drone, paradoxically undermining the stability of the music through the threat of conventional rhythm, the third is a brief recession into a state of warm, almost romantic placidity. Guitars interweave like lovers’ fingers and limbs, backlit by a reverb that glows with the soft hue of living room firelight, far from the feral blaze of the album’s first track. It’s a recuperative interlude before the dramatic 10-minute conclusion of “Blizzard”, through which those drones rise up to engulf those lap steel swoops and staggering guitars, like a blaze that spreads through Hahn’s wild western saloon and burns the whole thing to the ground.