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Einstürzende Neubauten - Perpetuum Mobile

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Artist: Einstürzende Neubauten

Album: Perpetuum Mobile

Label: Mute

Review date: Mar. 16, 2004

It's been a long road for Einstürzende Neubauten, and a lot of it's been pretty rough. From 1981's Kollaps through what may remain their masterpiece, Halber Mensch, to 1987's mysterious Feunf Auf Der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala, the group attacked music with a seeming determination to obliterate. Over a backbone of metal percussion and noise, singer Blixa Bargeld's surrealistic lyrics seemed to combine nightmare visions with oblique political references. True to their name ("collapsing new buildings"), the band wielded a wrecking ball aesthetic.

With 1989's Haus der Luege, however, the intensity seemed to lessen, and their percussive emphasis seemed in danger of yielding to the time's appropriation of "industrial" into a mere dance-music niche. Still, even on generally lackluster albums like Tabula Rasa and Ende Neu there were glimmers of the earlier pyromaniacal energy. After several years of silence, however, 2000's Silence Is Sexy might have been assumed to be the end, showing the band at odds with opposing impulses.

Now, after another four-year hiatus, against all odds, Einstürzende Neubauten are back, and with a focus that they seemed to have lost. Rather than awkwardly move between "conventional" songs and avant-pieces, they have devised a method to offer both in a consistent modus operandi.

Perpetuum Mobile is an album of skeletal songs, many of them little more than percussion, bass, and vocals. What's remarkable is the band's ability to create an effective atmosphere with so little – and much of the credit must go to Bargeld's ever-astonishing voice. This is not to denigrate the other contributions; from the opening "Ich Gehe Jetzt," merely a slow chant with scrapes, claps, and quiet noises, there's a feeling of minimal cohesion, a group that's not afraid to not play when it serves the music. They know that restraint only strengthens the impression when they do play.

The title track takes front and center here, a 14-minute journey through some of the band's finest rhythms and noises in some time. Massive metallic clatterings worthy of Z'ev break in, Bargeld screams in his utterly unnerving way, and metal percussion sets a hypnotic tempo. The song breaks apart and comes together several times during its run, providing dynamic variation and dramatic tension. Any song that gives credit for playing air compressor, car tire, and "olive-alarm, olive-canister stair-way performance" is likely to win me over.

The song's name – and thus the album’s title – might be read as a comment on the band's continual movement through their 20+ years. But the lyrics, while surrealistic and somewhat opaque, reference actual travel more directly. On the other hand, how do you read a line like "The dreams are wrecked time travelers"?

Putting a performance like that so early in an album could be dangerous, but the other songs manage to hold their own fairly well. "Ein Leichtes Leises Sauseln" follows immediately thereafter with a very quiet atmosphere, while "Selbstportrait mit Kater" (“self-portrait with hangover”) isn't likely to cure any headaches with its amplified spring percussion breaks. A few of the songs, such as "Boreas," rely almost entirely on the blanket of ennui that is Bargeld's voice, and simply wouldn't work without such a compelling vocalist.

Nonetheless, I must admit that it's the bass, the percussion, the other sounds, that entice me the most. The fantastic title track, the adrenaline clang of "Selbstportrait mit Kater," the gamelan-like percussion of "Ein Seltener Vogel," and the closing bells of "Grundstuck" are the high points on Neubauten’s unexpected and gratifying return.

By Mason Jones

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