This is Vantzou's solo debut, but she should be familiar to many from her work as the visual half of Adam Wiltzie's The Dead Texan project. That association was not a fluke, as Christina's musical aesthetic clearly shares a lot of quiet, slow-moving, and nuanced common ground with the Stars of the Lid milieu. Such comparisons are pretty much inevitable in any discussion of No. 1, but Christina establishes her own voice by embracing impressionist classical music and a brighter, more pastoral mood.
Vantzou began composing this album on her own back in 2007 with samples and a synthesizer, but the material that actually wound up on this release is probably quite different than it started out. That evolution is largely due to Magik*Magik Orchestra's Minna Choi, who became involved as a long-distance collaborator. As a result, Vantzou's 45-minute synth epic ultimately became a ten-song suite performed by a small orchestra.
The decision to break the piece into multiple parts seems like a great move to me, but I would definitely be interested in hearing what Christina's raw version sounded like. The orchestra undeniably makes these pieces sound like polished works by a serious composer, but it seems like that may have come at the expense of some character and humanity. That isn't a huge issue with the stronger compositions, such as the lushly melancholy "Your Changes Have Been Submitted," but the less distinct pieces are weakened still further by the homogenizing combination of professional classical instrumentation and warm, gauze-y production and mixing (provided by Wiltzie, actually).
There are a few muted rough edges that still manage to make their way in though. I definitely found myself looking forward to them, despite their subtlety (a little bit of rumble or hiss, a buried unrecognizable sample, etc.). The slightest hint of grit, menace, or darkness goes a long way towards making this album work and such hints appear far too sparingly, a predicament that raises a lot of issues for me: these pieces are arranged skillfully, unfold pleasantly, fit together as a thematically coherent whole, and feature some strong melodies, but it all errs on the side of being too polite and "nice."
Unfortunately, I could probably critique Ravel or Debussy for the same thing, which probably makes me a philistine or at least mildly intolerant of many classical music tropes. Vantzou's strong drone influence also plays a large role in No. 1's pervading feeling of sameness though, as there is very little dynamic variability or silence–just endless soft-focus swelling and billowing. Again, that isn't inherently a bad thing: it certainly makes the pieces feel contemporary and immersive, but it doesn't help the album's vibrance at all (though to her credit, Christina does an excellent of using brass to cut through the fog melodically).
For a debut effort, this is quite successful in a number of respects: Vantzou seamlessly weaves together classical music and drone, offers a handful of very good pieces ("Joggers," for example), and distinguishes herself from Kranky's other drone/neo-classical composers. On a fundamental level, it all works– I very much enjoyed hearing strong melodies and muted romanticism incorporated into a blissful fog of warm drone. Unfortunately, the details (or lack thereof) are a killer, as music this smooth, placid, and sanded-down doesn't leave a strong impression when the album ends. No.1 is a pleasant way to spend the better part of an hour, but doesn't go much deeper than that.