Prepared piano king Hauschka returns with a new album after re-releasing his debut last year in an extended double album format. For the uninitiated, Hauschka spends most of his time recreating what noises and sound a piano can make by tweaking its insides, adding bits onto it and then processing some additional electronica elements over the top. The result is always something unusual and alien to the regular piano lover and an abstract treat for lovers of the experimental.
To describe the album is difficult. “I Can’t Find Water” is a sultry blues number but there’s lots of string and wire fuzz noises being triggered whilst the regular piano plays again a smooth tune. “Constant Growth Fails” is far more aggressive and tech focuses as a rolling piano rhythm is accentuated with chip tune like plinks and little spasms of other metallic sounds to create a percussive side to the track. “My Kids Live On Mars” instead focuses on reverb and how to create feedback loops for the bass line to then play echoed lonely motifs over the top of. It’s eerie but alluring at the same time as its hypnotic to listen to. Often Hauschka’s work fits that description perfectly and this is no exception.
“I Need Exile” feels like an experimental jazz number as specific notes are transported to a compressed drum set sound. There’s lots of keyboard overlays too but its really hard to tell what’s a piano and what’s not – the fusion of sound is so open ended. “I Can’t Express My Deep Love” is much more subtle and gentle – the ballad if you will. The main melody is heartbreaking and has a creepy undertone. That is brought out by the watery guitar synth that rumbles in and out in the background. It provides the thought space between two big tracks as “Nature Fights Back” is militant and ever marching towards a Samba-like euphoria with its metallic drum beats and snazzy piano. It’s so unlike anything else I’ve heard for years – I was genuinely taken aback by how amazing the mash up of sounds were.
The single “Familiar Things Disappear” is also absolutely superb. Everything feels alien and the synth work here is the most prominent in the album. It’s the kind of track you’d hear on advert for a really sexy and cool dark drama on Netflix. It’s slow shimmers and shakes grow and expand to create a wall of confused and disillusioned sound that overwhelms the listener like an alien space transition. “Trees Only Exist In Books” is a more stumble filled percussive abstract piece that over the course of its seven and a half minutes fills up with harmonisers and synths into an avant garde classical piece. It’s somewhat cathartic when the pressure of all the synths lift for the final track “We All Live A Thousand Years” as it has a cheeky and mischievous drum loop and melody. It’s like the end credits track of a really weird sci fi thriller where the final twist made you audibly say “oooooh!” and then everything piano and drum wise prances before you shouting clipity clop.
There is no doubting Hauschka’s inventiveness and “What If” pulls his ideas into something more immediate and focused than most of his work. All the synths expand his working palette and compliment his style perfectly. As a relatively new fan of his, I am absolutely blown away with what he can do by preparing pianos and pianolas and fully expect this to be near the top of my best albums of 2017 list. Easily.
Recommended Track : Familiar Things Disappear