Christian Fennesz puts you on a guitar-shaped raft and sends you out to sea, his ambient waves cresting with distortion and hypnotic melodies. It’s hard to grasp that his 7th studio album, Agora, was made by Fennesz in a bedroom at his flat after losing studio access, as this is the kind of album that doesn’t feel like it was recorded in a bedroom, or even a proper studio. It recalls waking up before your alarm and being transplanted into a lucid dream, conscious and unconscious all at once.

Typically seen in conjunction with a -phobia (or similar) suffix, “agora” originally referred to not the outdoors but to a multi-purpose forum in ancient Greece. Fennesz’s album consists of four tracks, the shortest clocking in at ten minutes. Their titles feel far less incidental than on most ambient/drone releases. They seem to form a narrative of an individual finding themselves emerging from their isolation to a point of no return. We begin with ‘In My Room,’ with waves of guitar quickly crashing receding in time with blasts of bass. As the strums of guitar echoes for miles and the hiss mixes with tranquility, it’s like entering a new world but realizing you’ve been there all along.

While Anthony Gonzalez might have (partial) ownership of the sky, Fennesz ends Agora by declaring ‘We Trigger the Sun.’ The track lengths are never a liability, as he always finds something for his sounds to do, like when he introduces a crackling drone and heightens the tension with percussion and potent layers of guitar. It all pays off emotionally, as a deep yearning is felt in the buried melody and it grows deeper as it moves out of the darkness into an ascension.

The album’s strengths aren’t limited to its bookends. ‘Rainfall’ would go down as the instrumental track of the year if not for the vocal contributions of Katharina Caecilia Fennesz, which blend so gracefully in the mix that you might not even realize they’re a human instrument. It also highlights Fennesz strength as an experimental guitar composer in that he never tries to smooth out his instrument of choice to the point that he hides what it is. His tones clatter and wear their fuzz proudly. At one point on ‘Rainfall,’ his tones are fuzzy to the point that they sound like he’s sucking distortion through a straw.

The title track is the most ambient and, by default, the one with the least activity. But his ability to refine his textures is masterful, with each moment being one you could stay with forever, but when it does shift, it’s a shift worth taking, with field recordings from Manfred Neuwirth and vocals from Mira Waldmann granting further refinement. It also helps to prepare for the closing behemoth that is the closer.

Reviewing ambient music leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the writer, particularly when the background is as minimal as it is with this album. The extent of what’s been shared is that Fennesz made it in a bedroom with little gear using headphones. But sometimes a limited amount of information is all we need, particularly when it lets us focus all the more on the absolute allure of the final product.