Austerlitz sits in the shadow of artist Paul Haslinger’s concept album Exit Ghost, released earlier this year. The EP’s tracks consist of ambience and repetitive melodies that didn’t make it onto the full album, and appear with the intention of being book ends, or “bringing us full circle” (Bandcamp) after Exit Ghost. As a successful TV and film score composer, Haslinger works in a style of composition that exists relationally, namely, in relation to the moving image.
Echoes of his experience as a producer of original scores resound throughout Austerlitz. You could almost say the EP would work better as accompaniment to a film, instead of serving as little brother to an album that came out a matter of months prior. This is to suggest that it is incomplete. At best it’s ethereal and lucid. At worst, it’s mopey. In all considerations, it’s an EP that is spacious, dark, and requires patience on the part of the listener.
Patience indeed. The opening track, titled “The Waiting Room”, suspends the listener in a room of sound, carried forward only by irregularly tapped chords from the piano. The piano begins solo, and comes to meet swooning melodies and long, drawn out tones from the string section. The song is aptly titled as it evokes an unresolved tension, a moment in time lived only in expectation of the next. However, the song ends before that awaited moment arrives. “The Waiting Room’s” lack of resolution speaks to an overall theme Haslinger emphasizes with Austerlitz: a vague, dissatisfying relationship with time. His compositions are better described as circular than linear, where the developments of melodic and chordal gestures fold back in on one another, repeating. Maybe Haslinger intends this incompleteness as a further means of communicating emptiness, or something like it.
This reading of “The Waiting Room” is generous. Many listeners will find it slow, laborious, dramatic, overemphasized, and largely lacking a central focal point, which is to say that it is not pop music. The second track, “Austerlitz”, is equally lacking in development. Like “The Waiting Room”, the song feels more like an unfinished idea than a complete composition. Though it has more movement than the song it follows, something is still missing. Its minimalism is undercut by its brevity: it doesn’t give itself enough time to develop into a song that would justify its drama, its play between light and dark sounds. Were “Austerlitz” used as accompaniment to a crime series, it would make complete sense. Here we have further evidence as to why the contents of Austerlitz may not have made the cut for Exit Ghost.
The rest of the EP is comparable to its first two tracks: piano holds center stage, guiding and keeping time, while a handful of strings create ambient impressions behind it. Actually, it might be more useful to describe the EP with the word “impressionistic” instead of the word “incomplete”. It’s moodiness and play with time beckons an embodied listening experience quite different from what we’re used to, which is to say, again, this is not pop music.