Of all electronic subgenres, house perhaps most distinctly straddles the border between performative DJ culture and meticulous ambient minimalism, its rigid 4/4 repetition tweaked in either direction via dozens of distinct micro-genres. German multi-hyphenate Pantha du Prince, born Hendrik Weber, has fittingly dubbed his own micro-genre “sonic house,” which at this point seems to constitute hypnotically monotonous beats, shuffled into recurring patterns across album-length collections of thematically interlinked songs, whose inflexibility is repeatedly re-contexualized through bits of found sound and repeating sonic motifs. The Triad expands on this aesthetic through an actual collaborative trio formed between Pantha, Mr. Queens (ne Scott Mou) and Bendik Kjeldsberg (of the Bell Laboratory), who work together to shape a three-part roundelay of sounds that’s both fussily structured and consistently surprising.
Pantha worked with Kjeldsberg on 2013’s Elements of Sound, a five-song EP that dove headlong into the former’s interest in the melodic possibilities of bells and chimes. This fascination found its fullest expression on 2010’s breakthrough Black Noise, which perfected the holistic approach the one-time DJ had been circling on his first two recorded albums. Black Noise used the carillon as part of a monastic program of musical austerity, helping to crystallize the quietude of its Swiss Alps setting, where Pantha had retreated to write and record, including locally sourced field recordings to enhance the album’s specific character. The Triad applies a similar sense of simplicity and place, recycling elements and sounds, while trading the arboreal focus for a celestial one. Songs routinely build toward soaring, soft-touch climaxes, as eddies of sounds swirl in mounting ascension, the balletic interplay between galactic bodies remaining one of the album’s most persistent themes.
Opener “Winter Hymn” starts off in a frosty netherworld of tinkling chimes, bass hiccups, and synth washes, eventually organizing around a static beat that sets off an album’s worth of momentum. It also introduces the use of borderline unintelligible vocals as a primary rhythmic element, softening the harder techno edges of Black Noise while providing the album with its own uniting through line.
Pantha du Prince remains less interested in constructivist concept pieces than interlinked studies riffing on a consistent theme.
In some cases, as on “Islands in the Sky,” the vocals (all heavily processed versions of Pantha’s own voice) push to the forefront, resulting in a proper pop track that outmatches anything in his oeuvre in terms of immediate impact. Other songs are slower to come into focus, and as on many electronic albums, a central tension gradually emerges between natural and artificial sounds, placing them into weird and unexpected relationships with each other. Another clear antecedent seems to be Tim Hecker’s recent output, particularly 2011’s Ravedeath 1972, which exemplified his parallel movement into dense, minimalist abstraction, cobbling together a palimpsest that processed a series of pieces, all recorded from the same 19th-century Icelandic church organ, into a single united sonic collage.
Pantha remains less interested in constructivist concept pieces than interlinked studies riffing on a consistent theme, in which naturalistic splendor is conveyed by the interplay between thumping dynamism and sedate tranquility. His approach is further explicated in the album’s startlingly elucidative press release, which moves beyond the usual bombastic boosterism to explain the methodology and process behind many of these songs. “Lion’s Love,” a hard-edged piece that stands as one of the album’s more abrasive overtures, was apparently inspired by the 1969 Agnès Varda film of the same name, while “Frau im Mond, Sterne Laufen” continues the cinematic association by riffing on Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon.
Both films tellingly involve love triangles, while Lang’s classic silent sets up an equivalent interplay between Earth, the moon, and the vacant blankness of outer space, a void which seems to inspire the The Triad’s aesthetic fixation on stillness and cold. Beyond this, neither reference establishes more than another rhyming parallel for the focus on triads that undergirds the album’s three-sided experiment, but the background again confirms how much thought has gone into such a seemingly simple ambient piece, which convincingly provides a rich foundation for its smooth, soothing collusion of sounds.