Sunday, October 5, 2008

Far Away Trains Passing By... - Ulrich Schnauss (City Center Offices)

Far Away Trains Passing By…

Ulrich Schnauss
City Center Offices Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

If City Center Offices is known for a single masterpiece, it must be Ulrich Schnauss’ A Strangely Isolated Place. If CCO is known for two masterpieces, it must include Schnauss’ Far Away Trains Passing By…, the German’s debut album. Re-released internationally with a bonus disc in 2005, Far Away Trains Passing By… was an immediate success, a sweet blend of techno breakbeats laid-over gorgeous electronic soundscapes that wooed electronica fans everywhere.

Much of the record’s success and consequent criticism lies in its near new-age sentiments; an optimistic pleasantness to Schnauss’ melodies that is occasionally hard to ignore. ‘Knuddelmaus’ would then be Exhibit A, as it’s the first track, with its open-ended melody and expanses of shimmering keyboard effects fleshing it out. Luckily, Schnauss has a good ear for sentimental cheese, and never crosses the line between hand-through-open-window and aisle-three-shopping-mall soundtrack-fare. ‘Between Us and Them’ finds Schnauss in the groove, combining a slew of keyboard melodies with programmed beats that will get you to work on time, get your homework done… basically keep you motivated in work or play. The best couplet is certainly the final tracks, ‘Nobody’s Home’ and ‘Molfsee’; one arguably his first stab at writing a pop song, the other being equally arguable as his finest ambient track ever composed, respectively.

It’s a strong close, leaving listeners eager for more, and if you invested in the 2005 re-release, your wish is granted with an album’s worth of bonus material. Unlike the bonus tracks that accompany most re-issues which are usually recycled demos or lacklustre b-sides, Far Away Trains…’s second disc is nearly on par with the first. ‘Sunday Evening in Your Street’ opens with a descending synth-line and start-stop beats, before slowly expanding into a hypnotic composition while ‘Crazy For You’ is an ambient love-letter that expands into the shoegaze-borrowed territory that foreshadowed his sophomore classic A Strangely Isolated Place.

An excellent package that’ll do wonders on your MP3 player, this duel-disc effort should be the new template on how re-issues should be compiled. Schnauss writes predominantly feel-good music, and there’s nothing to apologize for when it’s as accomplished and impressive as his records are. For electronic purists, this is certainly the best place to start.

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