A couple of months back we worked our way through the first two volumes of Boris Blank‘s library music project Avant Garden. When I reviewed them, it came as something of a surprise that there was now a volume three and a volume four. Now seems as good a time as any to listen to those last two.
Boris, of course, you will know from Yello, the slightly bonkers Swiss duo who have been making bassy blues-flavoured electro for time immemorial. On Avant Garden the influences are similar, but it lacks the daft deep vocals over the top.
Volume 3 opens with Big Beans, a low rhythmic instrumental which could easily fit on any Yello album. I’m not sure what film or TV projects this might work well alongside, but it’s a pleasant, typically Blank sounding piece.
Elektro Kabinet is a bit different, although it still doesn’t entirely blow you away as a listener. It’s got a bit of the flavour of their 1994 album Zebra in places, a theme which will reoccur before the end of this collection, and makes for a fun listen.
She’s Got Balls is better, despite the curious title. Powered by the rather inventive sort of rhythm that Yello have made their trademark, it has a pleasantly laid back melody and pad section which is soft and gentle. Body Electrik is a little harder and darker, and for the first time might not actually sound out of place on the soundtrack to something.
My favourite track on volume three is the middle one, The Last Mile. It’s got all the atmosphere and energy of Yello when they’re at their best, so much so that it almost feels a shame that it got shunted onto a mini-album of library music. This piece, if nothing else, is proof that this collection is for more than just completists.
Inner Mountain and Off the Rails are more atmospheric pieces, lacking somewhat the melodic charm of some of the better moments on the album, but still pretty strong. Penultimate track Open the Box also lacks that special something, but is still a pleasant piece.
Volume three’s closer is called Night Train, sharing its title with a song on Zebra, and draws influence from several tracks on that album. Although it doesn’t quite have the charm of the original, it’s still a very pleasant atmospheric piece, and does sum up the 1994 album very nicely.
Volume four is slightly different, consisting of a lot of short tracks, kicking off with Open Skies, although it sounds more nautical than aeronautical to me. Meccano Dreams is similarly gentle and atmospheric, but Lite Haus is the first piece on this volume which really grabs you and screams “listen to me!” It’s full of atmosphere and drama from the start, and then an enigmatic choir turns up. Volume four, it seems, is where Boris Blank really pulled out all the stops and made proper library music – at least on the first half of the collection.
Midnight Procession continues in a similarly dark, atmospheric, and beautiful vein, and is also the longest track on this volume, clocking in at nearly four minutes. Ancient Desire and Missing Orbit are pleasant chilled out pieces, and then Dome is another of the true highlights.
From this point onwards, volume four is pleasant and full of moody pieces of music, but there’s little that grabs you in quite the same way. The Astrologer, Lost Language and K2 lack the experimental or melodic charm of some of the earlier tracks, but are still entirely listenable. The final trio, Siren Song, Neutrino Lab, and Face in the Cloud, have marginally more to say for themselves, but are still largely best enjoyed as library music rather than trying to imagine you’re listening to something new from Yello.
But all four volumes of Avant Garden have their respective highlights, and are worthwhile listens. It may not entirely count as new Yello, but it’s a lot better than your bog standard library music.
You can’t buy these albums, but you can listen to both Avant Garden Vol. 3 and Avant Garden Vol. 4 on Extreme Music’s still very nasty retro website here.