It’s hard to think of Christina Vantzou’s music without simultaneously drawing reference to the work of Adam Wiltzie, her collaborative partner in The Dead Texan project and half of both Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Which is obviously rather unfair but, on her debut solo album No. 1, also completely unavoidable. No. 1 was a pretty record, extraordinarily so at points, but its ambient chamber music approach was hard to disentangle from its obvious affiliations and engagements to Wiltzie’s musical projects. No bad thing perhaps, given the obvious quality of much of this material, but hardly helpful in trying to establish an individual musical identity.
On the face of it, No. 2 is much the same as its predecessor. It’s a solemn work of stark minimalism, delicate and powerful in equal measure. Where No. 2 differs from Vantzou’s solo debut however is in its subtleties. No. 1 was, perhaps, a ‘typical’ post-Stars of the Lid ambient record, but this hints that Vantzou’s sound is developing in slightly different directions.
Whilst early listens reveal little above the expected, tearful strings and occasional heartbreaking piano chords, more detailed excursions into No. 2’s psyche reveal that Vantzou’s palate compositional palate has widened somewhat. This is a slightly edgier work. Tracks end unexpectedly quickly. Floaty, but rather plain, textures are disrupted, and yet enhanced, by unexpected moments of instrumental diversity, such as the harp of ‘Sister’ and the mournful horns of ‘Vostok’. Whilst the former factor certainly puts No. 2 on the short side for an 11-track ambient record (it barely reaches the 35 minute mark), the latter provides snatches of more dynamic compositional ability. Vantzou’s sonic aesthetic hasn’t changed all that much but her ability to incorporate a wider selection of sounds seamlessly into her pieces has.
Unfortunately for No. 2, this tends to sell individual songs a little short. The aforementioned ‘Vostok’, which is the penultimate piece on the record, is swelled by dramatically mournful horns and driving strings within its sub-two minute duration, but it fades away before one feels that it's really had its opportunity to shine. The same could be said of the haunting Messiaen like strings of ‘Arp’, which promise to develop into something stupendously affecting before they are swiftly put to sleep.
This tendency of No. 2 to steal away some of its own promise is baffling, especially given that tracks like ‘Going Backwards to Recover What was Left’ and ‘Brain Fog’ actually see Vantzou draw out some far less intriguing ideas past the three-and-a-half-minute mark. For, although the majority of the material here is just as gorgeous as that which populated No. 1 it is the hints of greater complexity and dexterity that really signal the highlights of this record, and which hint at Vantzou establishing a more singular reputation as a compositional force.
The highlights of No. 2 certainly suggest that thinking bigger might see Vantzou produce something more spectacular in the future. For now though we can at least be thankful that she has once again produced something that paints several shades of beauty on its minimalist canvas.
7Benjamin Bland's Score