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Workshop - Es liebt Dich und Deine Korperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter

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Artist: Workshop

Album: Es liebt Dich und Deine Korperlichkeit ein Ausgeflippter

Label: Blue Chopsticks

Review date: Apr. 2, 2002

I had never heard of the German-based duo Workshop before hearing this, their fifth record out domestically on David Grubbs’ Blue Chopsticks label. Stephen Abry and Kai Althoff had toiled abroad in virtual American obscurity, bouncing from groove based kraut rock explorations, to Plunderphonics style sampling and back again. Their new full-length represents yet another stylistic departure for the pair, as this time out they focus their efforts squarely within the pop realm. I had read numerous accolades of their previous work, and was thus intrigued to check them out and see what the fuss was about to some. After hearing the band’s excellent foray into pop songwriting, I must say that now I really need to figure out how to get my hands on some of their older material.

At first listen, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced. As soon as Althoff’s distinctive vocals weaved into the mix on the first track “Fur wen?” I couldn’t figure out what exactly separated this group from other pop acts with a similar electronic-meets-organic modus operandi (like the Notwist, for example). But while groups like that work well making straightforward pop songs, Workshop does their best to work sudden off-kilter twists into the context of their music. “Fur wen?” combines gently plucked guitar, with a strange electro-acoustic drum hybrid to weave a rhythm that’s just slightly off with a melody to match. It does this, of course, before noisily breaking down towards the end with the guitar melody still swirling in the mix, only this time surrounded by bursts of percussive noise, just to bring it right back again with Althoff’s voice on top of it all. Indeed it is somewhat strange to move a simple pop melody in such a direction, but it works well. “Scheusalstage” switches things up a bit, keeping the melody but adding a more straight ahead galloping beat, allowing synth lines to come in and out, giving Althoff’s vocals a twisted sense of urgency. After this opening, the band uses the rest of the album to explore varied moods and textures. “Wie sieht Es aus?” attains Nick Cave-esque levels of despair with its sustained guitar lines and ominous percussion while “Miss lux” uses its spare, brushed beat, and random hints of melody to build an almost desolate and foreboding soundscape. Despite the fact that none of the tracks feature all live instrumentation, “Jetzt ist Vakanz” still feels the most electronic of any of them, fueled by it’s quasi-electro beat. It still retains elements of the pop song structure, however, pushed forth once again by Althoff’s vocals. “Es darf gelacht nisch merh” works drones into building tension throughout the course of the four minute songs, before giving way to “Im Winter” straight forward song stylings, fueled by alternately intricate and simplistic acoustic guitar lines and impassioned vocals. The album then closes with “Erfullung”, which works a building electronic beat along with acoustic guitar parts to excellent results.

Ultimately if this album were instrumental I wouldn’t hesitate to call it an instant classic, because the duo displays again and again on each track their major strength of combining different sounds, moods, and textures into one single cohesive unit with intricate results. However, what will end up making or breaking this record for most people are the vocals of one Kai Althoff. He displays a tremendous ability for working within different vocal moods for the whole record, but at times it feels as though his singing is alternately over and understated, with the former making the songs sound somewhat annoying and the latter leaving the listener feeling somewhat lacking. His vocal style is tremendously hit or miss. Initially I was put off by this, but after repeated listens it begins to seem as though these songs wouldn’t work without the vocals at all. Despite their ups and downs, the vocals are what lend such an intriguing air to the overall record.

As it stands, even though many claim the band’s earlier debts to bands like Can and Faust, this newer incarnation owes as much to classic pop songs as it does to their fellow countrymen, albeit songs obviously filtered through those Krautrock sensibilities. Imagine, if you will, a Belle & Sebastian or an Elephant Sixer indebted more so to Kraftwerkian motorik rhythms than to Brian Wilson style harmonies and you just might have it. Any way you choose to look at it, Workshop is a strange and intriguing listen that is definitely worth checking out.

By Michael Crumsho

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