Home Music Holy Hell Holy Hell! Endless Summer Turns 20

Holy Hell! Endless Summer Turns 20

Fennesz’s Endless Summer is a testament to how much more satisfying it can be to have to work for your goodies. It’s the same reason people like shucking oysters or spending hours cooking themselves meals to wolf down in 10 minutes. The songs on the Austrian’s third album scrape the knees and bruise the flesh; they’re coated in ferrous effects that seem to be perpetually flaking away. But they are songs, and it’s not for nothing that this album shares a name with a Beach Boys hits compilation.

Fennesz has long obsessed over the Beach Boys. An early EP called Plays had him covering “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder),” and 2019’s awesome Agora opened with a track called “In My Room,” which resembles the original only in its pinging romanticism. The collective ‘90s discovery that the Beach Boys were fantastic was a great boon to underground music, and Endless Summer represents the more abstract end of a period that produced Stereolab’s Dots and Loops, Cornelius’ Fantasma, the High Llamas’ Hawaii, and Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka. The connection to “America’s band” isn’t immediately obvious on Endless Summer, but the more you listen, the more those melodies stick in your head and make you think this stuff isn’t so far removed from pop after all.

The song here that hews closest to the psychedelic heft of the Beach Boys’ Smile is also the most aggressively experimental. “Before I Leave” is just chord changes, if you could imagine that, and each change is calibrated for maximum emotional impact. Fennesz understands that the way Brian Wilson stabs out huge and beautiful piano and harpsichord chords as if for dear life is so much of what makes his music transcendent. “Before I Leave” is something like “Look (Song for Children)” or “Surf’s Up” stripped of everything except a throbbing backbone.

Most of the great psychedelic pop geniuses can be pictured hunched over pianos and organs. Fennesz prefers guitar, and what a difference it makes. His melodies slide from one note to another in a way a keyboard never could, and the daisy-chain of effects he runs it through lead to all kinds of hiccups and friendly interferences. Electric guitarists have been defacing hooks with distortion for as long as the instrument’s existed, but most come to noise through pop, while Fennesz is coming to pop through noise. To anyone familiar with the usual fare of the late Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego label, this stuff feels almost too well-mannered to comfortably bear its name. It’s a gateway into Editions Mego’s laptop punk that plays well with ears weaned on My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Endless Summer feels less dated than a lot of similarly chimeric music from its time, and its consistent sound palate evens out the eclecticism on display. It’s glitchy but avoids the impulse towards Y2K paranoia; it’s starry-eyed and sincere throughout. Its goal is to be beautiful, which takes way more guts in noise than it does in pop. It’s a symphony to God, and heaven’s far enough away that the signal’s bound to break up a little.

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