Monday, July 14, 2008

The Devil, You + Me - The Notwist

The Devil, You + Me

The Notwist
Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%
Wishlist Counterpoint: 83%

A new Notwist record had been on my wishlist well before its details were announced at the turn of 2008, and not only because the four piece electronic group had been silent for six years. Their previous outing, 2002’s Neon Golden, had unleashed my unaware love for German Electro-pop – a passion that would later introduce me to Ulrich Schnauss, Apparat, and the majority of the Morr Music roster – and became my mystery-band of the year. Its programmed beats were so punctuated amid string flourishes, weaving in and out of tempered atmospherics, that one couldn’t help but be hooked after a single listen. But what kept Neon Golden so dear to heart after six years in obscurity is certainly in the lyrical and vocal talents of ringleader Marcus Acher, whose obscure turns of phrases and passionless singing are but a few in a bag of Acher oddities. So while I’ll attempt not to gush at the subtle beauty of The Devil, You + Me, I’ve been awaiting this follow-up for many years. Luckily, if you rummage the About SCQ page, you’ll find I never claimed to be bipartisan.

The brilliance of Neon Golden remains abundant here, if not superior, due to the Notwist’s decision to bury their hooks deeper into the mix, beneath a heavy wash of broken melodies and digital washes. While the results on The Devil, You + Me are consequently less immediate, the payoff is in the patience with songs that’ll settle in your head and grow with you. Once again, Acher is responsible for the material’s longevity; his impassive voice giving unexpected weight to the near-balladry of ‘Gloomy Planets’ or heart to the burdened but wonderous ‘Hands On Us’. Hats off to Notwist’s other three quarters, though, who’ve fulfilled this record’s destiny to be the wiser, more elegant brother to Neon Golden’s experimental character. Focusing less on electronic telltales, The Notwist of 2008 retain their edge but with a gentler lens; here, they present several acoustic-based numbers, sweet and subdued, well sequenced with some of their creepiest work to date. At its most unnerving, ‘Alphabet’ presents a one-chord song that becomes an interesting noise assault, while ‘On Planet Off’ acts as a vacant late-centerpiece to this album of interplanetary themes. This somber disposition is smartly shaken up with the scorching opener ‘Good Lies’ and ‘Boneless’, which, featuring a swift set of live drums and uplifting melody, is closest to their older Domino material.

The only thing that prevents this from becoming another tour de force is that Acher and Co. have done it all before. Despite a new cycle of thrilling songs, The Devil, You + Me is but a refinement of their breakthrough effort; that 2002 masterwork that now feels abrupt by comparison. While few will doubt that this album, as assured and beautiful as it is, proves the Notwist to be even more accomplished than before, it rarely pushes the envelope that made us once gasp and wonder where these guys came from. Still, the six years of unintentional hype aside, The Devil, You + Me is worth the wait; an album I’ll be comforted by through the months to come.

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