Snowflakes and Carwrecks EP

(Fat Cat; 2009)

By David Abravanel | 23 January 2009

If only more artists were as seasonally appropriate as Hauschka. Last fall we got Ferndorf, which saw Volker Bertelmann revisiting his small-town, nature-ridden upbringing, juxtaposed with the increasing popularity he’s experienced as Hauschka. It was a perfect October album, filled with autumnal recollections of bike rides through colored leaves, the crisp crunch of foliage, and near-indescribable sense of melancholy that pervades memories of childhood innocence.

Snowflakes and Carwrecks, then, is Bertelmann in winter. As could be expected, things are more contemplative and reserved, the mindless Zen harmony of nature walks replaced by the wonder of gazing at a frozen mosaic of ice and snow. “Eisblume” drips long string tones and frigidly high staccato piano stabs with the beauty and grace of a magnified snowflake. The plinking tines of Bertelmann’s prepared piano are appropriate like never before, ice crunching under the feet of the observer. Whether or not we’re back in Bertelmann’s childhood this time around is unclear, but Ferndorf‘s sense of innocence overwhelmed by nature is certainly present.

The interesting irony of winter is that, while it restricts people from as full interactions with nature as the other three seasons allow, it also brings them together with one another for indoor gatherings. The feeling of communal warmth inside from the cold beams at the listener on “Tanz,” the nearly 10-minute centerpiece. Bertelmann spryly pounds across his keyboard, messy metallic trills playing with joyously motor-like strings. Translated as “Dance,” “Tanz” paints an aural picture of a lively gathering in small town on a wintry night, complete with folk dancing and warm winter ales. It’s the most ecstatic Hauschka has ever been, and by the time things are resolved to a thrilling conclusion it’s hard not to smile a little.

It’s easy to see how winter might have affected Bertelmann as a small boy growing up in Ferndorf (the small German town for which the album was named). For much of the nature that Bertelmann treasured, winter is a season of death. Snowflakes and Carwrecks is steeped in frozen serenity, with eerie dissonances and miniscule screeches tossed in every one in a while to remind of the foreboding weather. The hypothetical protagonist of this EP, however, is entranced by winter rather than afraid of it, caught in a kind of content hypnosis as everything around him turns to ice. On a track like “Tagtraum” (“Daydream”), Hauschka’s lush piano ventures on a lovely train of thought to nowhere in particular, resigned and yet resilient in the face of a deep freeze.

Hauschka’s brilliance lies in his ability to transcend the physical practicalities of a bolt stuck in a piano, to make it morph into a flake of snow, or a wintry cough. Beyond simply being a fantastic musician, he’s a master of imaginative storytelling, and manages to perfectly capture the feeling of such a cruel yet contemplative season.