Ekkehard Ehlers seems to be one of those musicians working in the electro acoustic world that appears unafraid to completely jump styles with each release that he puts out. On Plays, he put together minimal electronic odes to different artists (both musical and other) while Politik Braucht Keinen Feind found him creating extended, uneasy drones in response to 9/11. My favorite work of his is still his collaboration with Stephan Mathieu on the great Heroin disc, where the two mixed field recordings and subtle electronics into something sublime.
A Life Without Fear is the sound of Ehlers diving into an entirely new world again, and it seems rather fitting that it's arriving almost 8 months to the day after Hurricane Katrina swept through the gulf coast. Inspired by Alan Lomax field recordings, damaged blues, world music, and his own sense of extended ambient and drone music, A Life Without Fear moves from claustrophobic unease to defiant confrontations and even a small sense of hope in places.
The disc opens with "Ain't No Grave," and the take on the traditional song finds queasy layers of guitars bending and weaving with one another while Howard Katz Fireheart (an NYC and Berlin renaissance man and member of Post Holocaust Pop,) adds some soulfull wailing. "Strange Things" has a similar modus operandi, finding Charles Haffer, Jr. crooning over deconstructed riffs that hiss with heavy fuzz that sound like they were culled from dirt-covered tape reels. The more ambient pieces on the album are split between discordant tracks (like the eerie "Frozen Absicht" and the jagged "A Second Fire") that find guitars making elbow room with dissonant stabs in gritty spaces while others (like the beautiful "Maria & Martha") pull together soft strings, fret noise, and trumpet into a lovely swirl of sound.
One of the most distinctive tracks on the entire album is also one of the best. "Misorodzi" is a somewhat downcast, African-inspired piece that mixing chanting and wailing vocals with minimal percussion to great effect. Because of the variety, the full effect of A Life Without Fear is rather disquieting in that it's unafraid to take the difficult path. At times comforting and at others bewildering, there's only a faint glimmer of hope peeking out from behind all the dread on this one.