Christina Vantzou - No.2
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Christina Vantzou has, with 'No2' (the obviously titled follow-up to Kranky's 2010 release 'No.1') shown that steady working methods pay off. Flying in the face of the current 'improvise - mix - upload to bandcamp' practice that permeates the current ambient and ambient-classical circles (to, it must be noted, both positive as well as negative effect), 'No.2' is a record years in the making; a seamless ambient-classical artefact.
Whilst immediate comparisons to projects such as A Winged Victory for the Sullen come to mind on first listen (and perhaps not by accident - the final mix was done by previous A Dead Texan bandmate and half of A.W.V.f.t.S. Adam Wiltzie), 'No.2' continually grows into a self-contained entity the more it is listened to and understood as a whole - more on-par with a symphonic collage than a collection of individual compositions. That is not to imply that there are no stand-out sections of the record, however - 'VHS' grows from an almost traditionally-minded dialogue between oboe and bassoon into a Phill Niblock-style block of pulsating, low-mid acoustic noise, and gorgeously-titled 'Little Darlin Seize the Sun' simply reduces the listener to a state of utter acceptance of the sounds contained within it; a true rarity of an experience.
Reminiscent of Clint Mansell's score for 'Requiem for a Dream' in regards to its cinematic, sweeping mood changes and pictorial qualities, that the record was first composed by Vantzou using synthesisers and MIDI data is a true indicator of her ability as a composer, as well as the scope of her vision; again, the immediacy of so much ambient composition (culling blocks of improvised material and re-stitching them into mastered compositions) is with this record utterly reversed, since the record was essentially composed and written before any work with the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and more specifically Minna Choi, who worked with Vantzou on notating, arranging and recording the record, was started.
The label has stated with regard to 'No.2' that "[a] recording that is a meeting of personalities is like the contact of chemical substances: if there is any reaction, all are transformed" - their only fault in claiming this is that the final transformed substance - the listener - was excluded from their statement. Culminating in the glistening, self-referential nod 'The Magic of the Autodidact', 'No.2' is a completely self-aware and honest record, and is one of one a few that truly stands out from the contrived pomp of much of its sonic contemporaries because of it.
Review by Max Hampshire