Flaque – Mindscapes

Wycombe Music (CDWYC 14), 2007

Even before I heard his debut album, Florian Ziller’s Flaque project had been on my radar for a while, thanks to a series of outstanding tracks on various compilations:  “Black Shadows in the Fog”, “Drifting Stones,” “Darkness is Falling,” and “Voices.”  With these tracks, Flaque showed a rare grasp of several styles, from ambient to glitch-studded IDM, and I always wondered if and when an album might appear.

I got my wish with the 2007 release of Mindscapes on Germany’s Wycombe Music label.  However, I didn’t discover it for a while, because Mindscapes was released as part of a triple-album set which was often cataloged as just one of the albums (CDWYC 13, an album by synthpop group Concise titled Revive).  I don’t believe Mindscapes has had a standalone physical release, but via digital, it’s not difficult to acquire….as long as one knows what one is looking for!

Perhaps I set my expectations too high, or perhaps Ziller is the type of artist who works best with a single track, for as solid as Mindscapes is, it still strikes me as disappointing.  With the creativity and technical skill displayed on his comp tracks – all done post-Mindscapes, mind you – I suppose I was hoping to be blown away by an entire album containing the same level of production.  Mindscapes does waver between straight ambiance, such as the playful “Flares”, the watery “Plankton,” and the soothing nightscape of “Stonehill”, and restrained glitchy IDM (“Northland”, “The Clouds and the Sun”), but it seems tentative, as if Ziller doesn’t feel fully confident to let himself go in the album format; perhaps he was trying too hard to make everything flowing and centralized.

Not that there aren’t some fantastic moments here.  In many ways, Flaque is like Gridlock’s little brother.  The distorted complex percussive patterns aren’t as bombastic, and the atmospheres aren’t as profound, but the formula is very similar to Cadoo and Mike Well’s influential flagship.  “Alive” begins with crowd samples and a minimal glitch sequence, before a lovely warm synth washes over; this is calming beauty, with a little bit of quiet chaos in the background to keep things from getting too floaty.  Flaque does tread very close to New Age in places, but the distorted drum programming keeps  Mindscapes from wandering too far into dreamland.

There are two tracks on Mindscapes that do hint at the dazzling heights set by Flaque’s later comp tracks.  “Acoma” is a sparkling wonder of mood, dancing keyboards, and muffled quietly crashing glitch, but for all its prowess, it never seems to fully take off.  “Deceive” opens in typical fashion for the album, but when female voices appear, courtesy of Katrin Segert of Concise, the track shifts effortlessly into synthpop territory.  I’m not a big synthpop fan, but this song is truly magnificent, soaring to aching heights as it progresses.  Segert’s husky, soulful delivery – instantly reminiscent of This Mortal Coil – is a perfect fit for Ziller’s emotive electronics, and the two bands must have known it, for they’ve gone on to collaborate widely since.  These two tracks alone make Mindscapes worth the price of admission.

I admit that I regret saying anything negative about this release.  Mindscapes is indeed enjoyable, and transporting in spots.  However, Flaque has since done his mood-and-glitch formula much better.  While the mood here is strong, it’s rather static.  Mindscapes sticks a little too close to blueprint; most of the chord changes are too similar, and no track besides “Deceive” really breaks out entirely.  I’m realize I’m musing over Mindscapes here, but since I’d heard the compilation tracks first, I can’t help but compare, despite being aware I’m viewing Flaque’s output in reverse.  From this perspective, only a project as promising as Flaque could make an album like Mindscapes seem disappointing.  It’s certainly good, and even great in parts, but Ziller’s best work is ahead of him.

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