Hauschka, also known as Volker Bertelmann, is generally spoken of in the same breath as a select band of contemporaries. Usually amongst them are Johann Johannsson, Peter Broderick and Owen Pallett, all of them musical auteurs of a sort. The default reaction for many when their work is considered, Hauschka's included, is one of automatic reverence because they're highbrow artists working in a pop medium, or at least a more emotionally direct one. Artists like this exist in a cultural netherworld between classical and pop, broadly speaking, but Hauschka more than any of them is becoming more comfortable with abandoning pop and the easily digested.
The trouble is that large portions of Foreign Landscapes are totally aimless. Melodies meander incoherently with more attention paid to creating an atmosphere of unease than forming something substantial, or even memorable. If the intention was to create this unease and have it dominate, then fair enough, but the occasional contrasting passage would have lifted the whole, and provided context. Iron Shoes, for example, has the ambience and dark complexity of a Mahler sectional rehearsal, but the same sense of incompleteness. There is little shape to the woodwind textures, and when a miniscule resolution finally arrives in the last two chords it's just not quite worth the effort.
Interestingly, a new focus and directness of language returns as soon as Hauschka sits at the piano. This is perhaps understandable given some of his previous albums (prepared piano features dominantly), suggesting that this is his natural idiom more than the winds and strings he struggles with. When he does perch on the stool, he becomes a romanticist Einaudi, a crafter of tense milieu, melodies gently weaved in rather than forgotten completely. Similarly, Snow evokes a C.S. Lewis-esque frostiness and is very fine mood construction. Children, to contrast, is splendidly impish, with a super bass clarinet line that propels the whole work. These moments prove Foreign Landscapes has some brilliance in it, but too often it is stultified by a lack of direction.
As the album concludes, Hauschka relies on ideas in his pieces that are not engaging enough. Endless harmonic retellings of a major scale is one of the oldest tricks in the experimenting composers' handbook, and Hauschka's version in Trost is a rather leaden and uninteresting one. In fact, it's symptomatic of the whole album. The lack of challenge and the absence at so many points of any thrust, melodic or otherwise, doesn't do justice to the ability of the creator, and that's a terrible shame considering the quality of the highlights.