A moving leap into the abyss.
Though it was apparently recorded at home using "what was at hand," Fennesz balances and juxtaposes sounds that are visceral and vast, making the album feel as dense as anything he's done. "In My Room" is particularly striking. The loudest element—a processed guitar drone that blossoms into feedback-laden shimmer—is accompanied by warm synth tones just below the surface, reflecting the intimacy of the song's title. What defines the piece isn't necessarily what is most noticeable. This is characteristic of much of Fennesz's work, but as his music becomes less and less influenced by song-like structures it becomes even more notable.
This move towards nebulous structures also sets Agora apart from Fennesz's other solo releases, 2014's Mahler Remixed aside. In contrast to the compact, linear tracks on his most lauded works—Venice, Endless Summer, and even Black Sea—Agora's four compositions are long and expansive. In these wide-open settings, elements build and crumble in cycles. "Rainfall," whose first half layers guitar fuzz only to let it all fall away, reconstitutes itself with an array of looping synths and rhythmic phrases that sometimes seem out of step with each other, creating a beguiling patter.
In ancient Greece, an agora was a public meeting place, a space for human interaction and communal activity. But this album—both the experience of listening to it and, according to Fennesz, the act of creating it—is highly insular, private and removed from the larger flow of human life. Take "Agora." The track's plaintive motif is shrouded in layers of digital hiss that feel desolate and bleak, and as it repeats it feels farther and farther away. The significance of this contradiction is unclear, but it deepens the mystery of an already mystifying listen. Agora is both a return to form and a leap into the abyss.