Hauschka, Abandoned City

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 03.18.14 in Reviews

On Twitter, you can find dozens of accounts, some with hundreds of thousands of followers apiece, dedicated to abandoned places and modern-day ruins. The Derelict Places forum unites individuals who share a passion for exploring and documenting the tumbledown and weed-grown. Hardly a month goes by, it seems, without a new article or photo essay dedicated to Detroit’s spectacular collapse. And let’s not forget True Detective, which takes not only its setting but also multiple crucial plot points from the hurricane-ravaged wastelands of rural Louisiana. Ruin porn is hot these days. Now, Germany’s Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) offers his own contribution to the latter-day “Ozymandias” canon with Abandoned City.

Doing ghost towns justice

The album’s theme couldn’t be more different from that of its predecessor, 2011′s Salon des Amateurs, a neoclassical tribute to dance music in which knotty prepared-piano phrases played the roles normally reserved for synthesizers and drum machines. The mood is different, too: In place of the previous album’s dense tone clusters and polyrhythmic counterpoints, lyrical top-line melodies tend to predominate here, with an overall effect that’s less Chain Reaction than Frederic Chopin.

With the exception of “Who Lived Here?” every song is named for a different ghost town, from Pripyat, site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to Craco, a crumbling hillside village in southern Italy. There’s also Agdam, an Azerbaijanian city that was depopulated during 1993′s Nagorno-Karabakh War, and Sanzhi Pod City, a kitschy architectural experiment in Taiwan. The distance between those examples suggests that Bertelmann is less interested in any specific critique of modernity than in a generalized melancholia; that’s certainly reinforced by “Agdam,” whose stately melody is reminiscent of Yann Tiersen’s Amélie theme. But even as a largely sentimentalist project, he does justice to his subjects, using natural reverb and subtle electronic effects to suggest the dusky corrosion of a decades-old cassette tape. And behind his bold melodies, an all-pervasive rumble — nervous fingers drumming rapidly on the keys, nuts and bolts rattling against piano strings — hangs like a velvet curtain, moth-eaten and threadbare.