Boomkat Product Review:
Christina Vantzou's "No. 5" is the experimental composer's most personal and autobiographical despatch to date; a reduced, environmentally aware array of field recordings, piano, unearthly vocals, modular synth and subtle, candid orchestrals. Utterly bewitching music, somewhere between Vangelis, Grouper and Aristotle.
There's a monastic sense of peace to "No. 5" that's difficult to grasp. Vantzou imagined the album after experiencing a moment of focus while she was staying on the Greek island of Syros for a show; she'd been collecting raw recordings for some time and situated in that idyllic space, the narrative began to make sense. After relocating to another island, Vantzou sat alone outside with her laptop and headphones crafting the recordings into an album. Taking breaks to dip into the surrounding waters, she allowed the landscape to guide her - it sounds as tranquil and balmy as you might expect, balanced and sometimes obscured by Vanzou's usual interior self-reflection and equivocal darkness.
'Enter' is a sopping wet and uncomfortable opener; a silvery landscape disrupted by a hoarse vocal and high contrast strings that crack into blissful chorals. It's not unlike Antonina Nowacka's flawless "Lamunan" - there's a sense that Vantzou is alone in a cavern, singing not to us but to nature itself. The surreal, sepulchral mood is split by 'Distance', a short piano vignette that brings us into an ornate pan-European hotel lobby in the fin de siècle, evoking the spirit of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice". But it doesn't last long, Vantzou time travels into a lost future on 'Reclining Figures', using pitch bent analog brass synths to point towards the landscape pictured on the cover of Steve Roach's cult ambient classic "Structures From Silence".
If these ideas sound chaotic, it's to Vantzou's credit that she's able to shape them into a coherent whole. The album's longer compositions - like the cinematic 'Red Eel Dream' - stand out against shorter, sharper disruptions, like 'Dance Rehearsal', a-two-minute shimmer of woodwind and strings. As we pass into No.5's second half, those longer compositions take hold to reveal a more viscous emotional core. Taken alone, a track like 'Kimona I' could be misread completely; here, Vantzou layers soaring operatic vocals over spacious furniture music piano. It could have sounded detached and unsettling, but surrounded by such varied expressions it feels like a miracle - like some small outcropping of sharp, dangerous rocks brimming with natural beauty.