Like many of the best ambient projects, Bohren & der Club of Gore expect their listeners to do part of the work. More objective criticisms of the band’s music might paint their least solemn passages as uneventful at best, their atmosphere homogeneous, and their compositions an outright challenge to their prospective audience’s patience who, more than likely, have come to expect something more lively from their jazz music. If Piano Nights demands its listeners’ attention, it is less so for the conventions of composition and performance than the rich images and narratives the music suggests. It should be said that Bohren & der Club of Gore have certainly tackled more convincing incarnations of this sound in the past, but Piano Nights still stands as an emotive, incredibly well-refined bridge between dark ambient and jazz traditions.
As I mentioned, it’s the narratives suggested in Bohren’s music that gives it such a unique taste. Everything the band has done is steeped in film-noir tradition; for anyone that’s found themselves interested in that avenue of cinema before, it’s nigh-impossible to approach this music without the rich imagery of film-noir revealing itself mentally. Surface impressions might make Piano Nights out to be cut from an identical cloth as the past seven records Bohren & der Club of Gore have produced together; vast atmosphere, minimalist saxophone leads and a frustratingly slow rhythm section all come centre-stage once again. Though the instrumentation here is almost entirely standard for jazz music (save for the incidental use of background mellotron), it’s arguable that acolytes of dark ambient traditions will find it easier to get into the style. Being their eighth record, Bohren & der Club of Gore have virtually perfected the execution already, and the structural elements are completely inherent to their prescribed style. Like I’ve said above, it’s the impression of narrative and image that makes a Bohren album special.
I’m not alone in thinking that Sunset Mission is the band’s best work to date. Though the apocalyptic undertones of Black Earth stand to compete, the way the foreboding urban atmosphere on Sunset Mission perfectly captured the cynical anti-Romanticism of film-noir remains unrivaled in my eyes. Though they’re very similar, Piano Nights sounds decidedly less sinister than its predecessors. The haunting pace and solemnity remain, but the emotional impression is less one of cynicism or suspicion, and more inclined towards feelings of melancholy. Perhaps it’s because saxophonist Christoph Clöser has chosen to play in a higher register this time; emotions are difficult to place in the first place, and it’s potentially even more elusive to find their source.
The best I can do is to attempt to relate my own impression. It’s easy to glean some sort of narrative based around longing and loss around the music here. It’s like the soundtrack to a lonely man drinking his night away, watching a jazz band, trying fruitlessly to keep his mind off of the failed object of his desire. The compositions are even more sparse than I’d come to expect from Bohren & der Club of Gore. They’re masters of this atmosphere, and for all of the complaints I’ve read regarding the apparent lack of evolution in their sound, I think Piano Nights potentially tells a story of its own. The minimalism has been pushed further here than their more “sinister” work, it has a more difficult time holding my attention as a result, and it’s far from the personal revelation I experienced hearing Sunset Mission for the first time. Even so, Piano Nights is ample demonstration of a band having mastered a sound and taking a mood to its natural conclusion. Wait until night falls, put the album on, close your eyes and reflect over loves lost and missed opportunities. Hearing Piano Nights any other way only serves to limit the experience.
01) Im Rauch
02) Bei Rosarotem Licht
03) Fahr Zur Hölle
05) Ganz Leise Kommt Die Nacht
06) Segeln Ohne Wind
08) Verloren (Alles)
09) Komm Zurück zu mir