The German trio turn electronically-tinged, instrumental rock music inside out.
David Sheppard 2010-03-29
Eight albums into a career that began during (and arguably defined a Mitteleuropa response to) the first flush of 90s US post-rock, the palindromic Berlin-via Düsseldorf trio continue to turn electronically-tinged, instrumental rock music inside out, their enthusiasm for recombining and recontextualising familiar sounds and genre traits seemingly undimmed. As is perhaps inevitable when experiment defines a musical approach, Speculation proves to be something of a mixed bag; but so laudable are its makers’ intentions that even when things occasionally fall flat, you find yourself applauding their efforts.
Partly recorded live and in the moment at Faust’s studio in Scheer, in rural southern Germany, To Rococo Rot’s is now a relatively unembellished sound, certainly compared to the sophisticated electronic layering of their benchmark 90s albums Veiculo and The Amateur View. As then, however, it’s Stefan Schneider’s bass which provides the music’s centre. Oscillating between graph paper dub, neo-krautrock throb and needling lead line, Schneider locks in with Ronald Lippok’s stripped-back live drums and discretely processed beats, while his brother, Robert Lippok, sprinkles ephemeral textures and discrete melodies.
As dextrous and nuanced as much of Speculation is, it’s also the rawest music they’ve yet produced. Thus, hypnotic opener Away is a tone-setting exercise in combo deconstruction – the sound of a band purposefully reducing itself down to essential constituents. Featuring just heartbeat drums, a primitive, loping bass line and a slow accumulation of gauzy sonic scree, it seamlessly conflates the robotic and the organic.
Seele, meanwhile, constructs a counterpoint flow of flickering hi-hats and snaking bass beneath a cloud of reverberant piano chords, while Horses uses the implacability of a burbling sequencer to allow drums and bass to meander jazzily – like much here, it’s perched on the cusp between warm-blooded humanity and technological rigidity.
The formula wears slightly thin later on, but things pick up again on a closing pair of tracks, Bells and Friday, which recall the delightful modal-pastoral experiments of 70s German antecedents Harmonia and Cluster. The latter number even features an organ cameo from Faust’s Hans Joachim Irmler – an imprimatur from krautrock aristocracy that’s well earned.