One To Three
One To Three is the second and last album by Thomas Fehlmann that was released on the R&S Records subsidiary label called Apollo in 1999. Shortly after the masterpiece – and I'm not using this term arbitrarily – Good Fridge, Fehlmann came up with a special setup that works charmingly despite the many dangers in terms of coherence and aesthetics that come along with it: One To Three collects three different kinds of music that can be linked to Fehlmann, hence the album title that reads like "1, 2, 3". Firstly, there are six unique compositions by Fehlmann that didn't make it on Good Fridge and which would sound out of place in this perfectly polished and coherent album. These compositions are done by himself or are collaborative efforts. Secondly, there are two remixes by Fehlmann for other artists and even one he did on his own track. And thirdly, the album features remixes of Fehlmann tracks done by other artists. This collection could be risky, for Fehlmann's style is potentially destroyed by other bands and artists who sound entirely different. Surprisingly, this is not the case! One To Three is a synth-laden album full of Ambient and Downbeat songs with pumping or dubby beats. It is also keen on presenting static noise particles and bits of Glitch, but the melodious sections outweigh the more experimental side. The mood is usually dreamy and upbeat, although there are mysterious and deep pieces on here as well. Due to the nature of this release, only avid fans of Thomas Fehlmann will be pleased with the entirety of the material. In the last paragraph, I will therefore mention a few tunes for cherry-pickers who aren't yet accustomed to his material.
The opener is called I Wanna Be A Fishy, an unexpectedly warm and acoustic guitar-driven ditty that wouldn't have fitted in the synth glitz of Good Fridge. It is probably the most atypical composition Fehlmann came up with. A nasal male voice sings about his wish of being a little fish. Pumping beats, quickly looped clicks that sound like flowing water and swirling synth stabs make this a lofty track despite its underwater theme which suggests a depth that is never depicted by it. It's really a cute arrangement and curiously enough one of Fehlmann's best known compositions. Up next is his remix of Charles Wilp's world-famous theme of Charlie's Angels, but you wouldn't know this from listening to Fehlmann's interpretation. It's a wonderful Dub song with a bubbling bass, a silky monotonous horn, clanging clicks, constantly chopped sound fragments, whirling two-note synth accompaniments as well as pitched and twisted aah-aah vocals and laughter, presumably by the original Angels themselves, as this song was released before the cinematic reboot. The laid-back atmosphere shifts into a weirder setting due to the mentioned drugged laughter and an eerie lounge synth. Fittingly enough, the ride ends with one of the Angels choking. The third track is Monza, the second of six original Fehlmann compositions that found their way on the album. It really evokes the Formula 1-related snobbery and bustling activity with the help of a mercurial organ melody, a swelling and falling bass line and quirky synth stabs. It's a strangely appealing track despite the missing motor sounds and a lacking euphony. Threefour King's Club is another unique Fehlmann composition, and it is here where the shimmering synths enter the scene big time. A gleaming one-note string backs a reduced but vivifying pulse-laden melody that is as jocular as it is mellow. Dubby beats and a thirty seconds long string-laden Ambient outro round off the positive vibe. Next is Fehlmann's remix of Infiniti's aka Juan Atkin’s Never Tempt Me. He hasn't changed an awful lot of this upbeat Detroit anthem. The shimmering synths were already featured in the original, as were the vocals. But Fehlmann glued the icy cymbal staccato loop and the chirping birds of his interlude Unisize off Good Fridge to the remix, making it even warmer and friendlier.
The next four consecutive tracks could be heard in that order before the release of One To Three, as they form the strangely titled Blow-Up Chimp EP that was released in 1998. Two remixes of Superfrühstück and two renditions of Wee Wee Mademoiselle, both off Fehlmann's Good Fridge, are presented in their original running order, but the remixes of Wee Wee Mademoiselle are shortened and slightly different. The first remix is by the duo Trash Aesthetic aka Allen Avanessian and Danny Zelonky. Their rustic take on Superfrühstück is loaded with static noise, radio frequencies, clicking pulses and wind gusts that are kept together by a warped downbeat and quirky fragments. No melodies are attached, but since all elements are smooth and blurry, the remix isn't as glitchy or frosty as its ingredients might suggest. Next is the To Rococo Rot remix of Wee Wee Mademoiselle. It is strictly loop-based, fuzzy and dreamy with galloping percussion, electric piano glints and a galactic synth string. The main melody is definitely changed, and if I didn't know the relation of this remix to the original, I would've never guessed it correctly. Next is the remix of the same song by the duo Sextant – which is actually a disguise for Max Loderbauer and Tom Thiel of Sun Electric – and it is actually a great work. It launches with a jazzy trumpet, double bass slaps and the gorgeously warm melody of the track which is re-assembled with different, warmer synths and scintillating bells. I even prefer this remix to Fehlmann's original, and that's worth noting, for the original is already really good. But on this remix, they are warmer and cozier. A terrific downbeat remix that is shortened by two minutes, but contains the humble majesty and the wonderful trumpet of the longer version. The conclusion of this EP within an album is Fehlmann's own remix of Superfrühstück called Superflowing, and its auspicious name is rightly used: shedloads of blurry synth washes, flurrying glitters and filtered swells make this a huge Ambient track. Even the steady beat and the clicking percussion don't distract from the phantasmagoric sweeps. It's really a flowing remix and one of Fehlmann's dreamiest compositions he has ever created! It sucks the listener in and let's him or her bathe in its technicolored streams.
Crispy Duck is an aptly titled unique track that starts with static noise-burdened radio frequencies of a kitschy Italian ballad that is thrown to dust by the ambiguous thermal heat of frostily bubbling synths. Pumping beats and frantically quacking synths provide tension and deepness. The sweeps are indeed heavy and glooming, the cymbals fire rapidly, it really feels like being in an oven… on steroids. A fantastic piece that oscillates between the aforementioned warmth and uneasiness. While the penultimate Tuning is a crackling middle wave-fueled collaboration with Mute label boss Daniel Miller and spiced with icy melodic fragments, bit-crushed beeps and analogue scintillae, the almost nine minutes long closer Friedrichstrasse is dedicated to the famous street of Berlin. A collaboration with King Crimson's Robert Fripp, this vibraphony 4/4 mystery theme of bells, creepy synth string eruptions and gurgling droplets paints a successful aura of enigma and alienating grandeur. The string melodies fade in and out, but morph and coalesce splendidly, making this an exciting track whose long duration is exactly right and doesn't cause boredom. It's the strongest collaborative effort Fehlmann was ever involved with, despite his shedloads of hits with The Orb.
One To Three could've gone terribly wrong. A hodgepodge of remixes, collaborations and different styles lacks coherence and could collapse due to the weight of moods and varieties. One To Three is a terrific collection of dots and links that are connected to and by Thomas Fehlmann. Whether it's his unique tracks, his collaborations, his remixes of his own tracks, his remixes of other artists' tracks or the takes of other musicians on Fehlmann's material, everything meshes together. Highlights are I Wanna Be A Fishy which garnered a cult following over the years, the other animal-related skit called Crispy Duck, the dreamiest fantasia Superflowing and the mystery theme called Friedrichstrasse. And these are just four superb tracks that shouldn't degrade the remaining material. It is only Fehlmann's collaboration with Daniel Miller and the Trash Aesthetic remix of Superfrühstück which are underwhelming and lack an overarching concept or carved-out direction. But even those static noise-laden downbeat tunes are mellow enough to not be nerve-racking. One To Three is the perfect foil of Good Fridge and the very last album where Fehlmann embedded playful samples of spoken words in his music, as his later work lacks these particularities. One To Three is available on iTunes and Amazon, and I can only urge you to pre-listen to Superflowing if you can only spare the time to listen to one song. This is the one track that outshines everything else.
Ambient Review 092: Thomas Fehlmann – One To Three (1999). Originally published on Jul. 11, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.