Ignatz is Bram Devens, a Brussels-based musician and certainly one of the least distinguished of the many artists in recent years who have dropped folkish acoustic guitar moves into a stew of electronic effects. Lacking the luminosity and sense of space characteristic of Four Tet, Boards of Canada and other leading lights of what has cringingly been termed folktronica, Ignatz depends on scratchy lo-fi methods in a game but ultimately doomed bid for grit and authenticity.
On this, his first album, Ignatz reaches back to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music in an attempt to tap into that vital wellspring of unmediated expression. His artless vocals approximate to the nasal twang of many of the singers on the Smith box set, but trade their raw immediacy for a postmodern synthesis of acoustic and electronic forms. The results, almost without exception, are lame and unremarkable. The lengthy opener, “Rebound From The Cliff,” meanders on a path of fuzzed out guitar and peak level distortion without gathering much in the way of drama or conviction. Here and throughout, Devens approaches his vocals as interjections rather than as organic elements of the song, and they end up sounding sketchy and tacked-on as a result.
The title of “The Radiant Sheen” can only be ironic, since there is precious little radiance coming from the song in question. Instead, Devens lays down a bloopy rhythm track and overlays it with bloodless vocals and primitive, Velvets-y guitar. Elsewhere, “No Greater Gravity” begins pleasantly enough in its merging of acoustic simplicity and angular feedback, before losing its way with egregious processed humming sounds. The curiously titled “I Look At Her With The Euh” (sic) reveals Devens’ improvisational methods to be somewhat slack. Listening to his guitar work, one never gets the impression that he is driven to create this music; channelled, inspirational playing is not much in evidence here.
The closing and longest track, “The Sinister Snow Squaws”, is the one occasion on which Ignatz’s unstructured approach pays off. Combining just guitar and processing, the piece eschews vocals and beats and has something of the flavour of late period Swans in its slowly turning expansiveness. Devens adopts Jandek’s atonal, clanky style while bathing his guitar in a warm fog of effects. One wishes that Ignatz had adopted a similarly impressionistic approach elsewhere on the record.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 15, 2007)